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Catfish Cafe [Mass Market Paperback]

Earl Emerson
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 7 1999
Everyone who knew Balinda could have told Seattle private eye Thomas Black that the ex-choir girl thumbed a ride with the devil a long time ago. Still, no one expected the pretty young woman to vanish off the face of the earth--leaving in her wake an empty purse, a wrecked car, and a dead Eagle Scout in the backseat. What's more, Balinda never even gave notice at her last job--at a backwater diner where a freezer might keep more than crawdads on ice.

When Balinda's driver is identified, Thomas Black suspects big trouble. For it turns out that the victim was a fifth-grade Tacoma schoolteacher with an impeccable reputation. But tracking the past of that white-bread teacher is increasingly hazardous. Especially when it leads Thomas back to that modest little eat-in/take-out . . . called Catfish Café.

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Product Description

From Amazon

Former firefighter Earl W. Emerson writes two very interesting mystery series: one about small-town Washington State fire chief Mac Fontana and another about Seattle private investigator Thomas Black. All of Emerson's stories are haunted by ghosts from his characters' pasts, and none more so than this latest, where Emerson sends Black on a long, tangled, and not always obvious search through the roots of the African American family of his former police partner, Luther Little. Little's daughter has disappeared, leaving behind a car full of bullet holes, a dead young white man, and nine birth certificates that raise lots of troubling questions about fraud and parental responsibility. As Black grapples with ancient crimes and current human failure, his sharp and sexy lawyer wife, Kathy Birchfield, is--as always--on hand to keep him focussed. Other Thomas Black books in paperback: Deception Pass, The Million-Dollar Tattoo, Nervous Laughter. --Dick Adler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Emerson's works, consistently fast-paced, moving and richly evocative of the Pacific Northwest, often create more questions than they answer. In this 11th in the Thomas Black series (Deception Pass, 1997), the roots of the mystery stem from old secrets haunting the extremely dysfunctional extended family of Black's former police partner, Luther Little. Little, an African American, asks Black, a PI, to help him locate his missing daughter, Balinda, and find out who killed the young white man found dead in her car. Black is sure the answers lie in the family's past. In a number of beautifully written scenes, Emerson employs dialogue and description expertly to reveal character: the victim's fianc?e preventing his father from robbing her of all her mementos; Black interviewing the dead man's astute, dying mother; Balinda's grandmother asking Black puzzles to avoid answering his questions. The story, which includes another murder, is tantalizing, complex and engrossing, fueled by themes of prejudice and parental responsibility that cut across race, class and gender. By its conclusion, Little's remaining family members are drawn closer together, but the solution, which lies in the present, not the past, will likely leave readers more interested in the mysteries and variety of human behavior than in explications.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written, but predictable Nov. 25 1999
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Having read the previous reviews, it's kind of laughable that this novel gets reviews of either 5 stars or 1 star. Neither is a particularly accurate judgment, no matter what the standards. The writing is excellent, with imagery as good as any Emerson novel (and better than 95% of the authors out there), the characters are interesting, but the 'mysteries' here are as predictable as any novel out there. I find it disappointing to be 5 chapters ahead of the protagonist, particularly in a story told in a first person narrative. The story of Ben Aldrich could have been interesting, but instead was the most predictable plot device I have seen in any of Emerson's previous books. The ending was so-so, and if not for the strong narrative style, would not have been worth the effort. Dennis Lehane has done a much better job in recent years if presenting racial and class differences while presenting strong detective stories. I expect this to be one weak effort from Mr. Emerson and not indicative of anything, but I hope that as much effort will go into the storyline next time as into the characters and settings.
Not as bad as some reviews, but certainly not on par with some of the other reviews. The idea that the bad reviews are due to a reader not wanting to know that much about a 'poor African American family' is ridiculous, totally unsupported by the reviews themselves, and makes me wonder if Al Sharpton is posting reviews here now. Do not make the mistake of thinking that, because race is major factor in this novel, that that alone should somehow make the work exempt from an accurate review.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good addition to the series June 13 1998
By A Customer
In Seattle, Luthor Little asks his former police partner, private investigator Thomas Black, to help him locate his missing daughter Balinda. Apparently, Balinda left behind her purse with nothing inside it, a wrecked car, and a bullet-ridden corpse in her back seat. Thomas frantically begins to investigate the disappearance of Balinda and the identity of who killed the man in the car because he fears for the missing girl's life.
In his eleventh outing, Thomas Black remains one of the most interesting sleuths of the nineties. His latest novel, CATFISH CAFE, is a very good who-done-it, that reads even better as a family saga. The support cast, who are mostly Luthor's family, is a great ensemble. Especially fun to read about is grandma and her use of puzzles to simultaneously dodge and answer Thomas' inquiries. Shamus Award winning Earl Emerson is the emperor of the Northwest who-done-it and anyone who has not tried one of his novels is missing out on a fabulous treat.

Harriet Klausner
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2.0 out of 5 stars Boring. April 16 2004
By NHgboy
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is the first book I have read by Emerson. Although it's a small book, it was a difficult read. The writing was a bit stale and uninteresting. There's not a lot going on in this book besides rather straight and to-the-point storytelling. There were a lot of characters--too many to keep track of--suffering from under-development.
In some parts of the novel, I found it difficult to track who was saying what because the thoughts and/or actions of one character were contained in the same paragraph as the dialogue of another character. A small complaint, maybe. But when carried on over a few pages, this style of dialogue writing is unnecessarily confusing and cramps the novel's flow.
I may read another Emerson book, to give him a fair "shake", but it will be much lower on my reading list.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Are These Guys Crazy? Jan. 2 1999
By A Customer
I can't believe these other reviews of Catfish Cafe. It was one of the best novels I've read in years and I read a lot. It is funny, sad, and poignant. The milieu Emerson delves into in the African-American community in Seattle is fascinating and, from what I know of it, accurate. The relationship between Luther and his children was well-drawn and intriguing. I really believe the previous critic who said this was boring was bored because he or she didn't want to read about poor African-Americans. Yet, Emerson has really disected this family. I found them fascinating. It worked as a mystery, but it worked better as a novel. I've read only one other Thomas Black novel but you can bet I'm going to read more. This guy is good.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Weak, unimaginative, and not at all challenging. Aug. 25 1998
By A Customer
I wish that I had read the Kirkus Review before I read this book. I couldn't have said it better myself. I have to wonder if Earl Emerson is running out of ideas. I have enjoyed all of his books in the Thomas Black series, except for this one and the Million Dollar Tattoo, and this one was a major disappointment. The "twists" were predictable and too easy, and the "who-dun-it" left me saying "Who cares?" I found it to be a very weak story, and hope that Mr. Emerson has some better plotlines still up his sleeve. This one wasn't worth the time I spent, not only reading it, but waiting for it to come out.
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