Book Review: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

The Ballad of Black Tom     

Author: Victor LaValle

Publisher: Tordotcom

American release date: February 16, 2016

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/dark fantasy/160 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Tommy Tester is a dutiful son. He works hard to take care of his dying father, to provide them both with a place to live, food to eat… just the basics. But life is hard in Jazz Age New York, especially for a black man. There are places where he isn’t meant to go, things he can’t do. People who look down on him because of the color of his skin. But with survival the name of the game, sometimes you do things that are necessary. Even if they’re a little dark.

Take for instance the book that Tommy delivers to the white lady in Queens. He’s not stupid. He knows what kind of book that is, and what she is, and what someone like her will use it for. But that’s okay, he’s fixed it so she won’t be able to, and he’ll still get paid.

And then a strange white man calling himself Robert Suydam offers Tommy $500 to play at his home. Now Tommy plays the guitar, and  hesings, but he knows he isn’t all that, not like his dad, so what’s up with this offer? Still, that’s a whole lot of money, and he and his dad can live comfortably for a long time. His decision is a no-brainer. So he agrees to play, and receives $100 as a down payment.

Suddenly, he’s on someone’s radar—a cop and a private detective, who shake him down and want to know what his business is with Robert Suydam. He tells them what he knows, which isn’t much, and they take his money. Okay, now he’ll still get $400, and that is worth it. He spends a few days practicing his limited repertoire, and his dad teaches him a new song. And then the night comes and he goes to the mansion and plays…

This story is engaging from beginning to end, as you tear through it, trying to figure out what’s going to happen, and what’s going on. It’s told from two different perspectives, between Tommy Tester and Malone, the private detective. Nothing is what it seems, and I certainly didn’t see the ending coming. This is an old school horror story, harking back to writers such as HP Lovecraft.

Well-written and well-told, I truly enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to those who like to read horror stories, especially if you like HP Lovecraft.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s