Author: Wanda M. Morris
Publication: William Morrow, trade paperback, 2021
Setting: Present-day AtlantaDescription: Ellie Littlejohn is one of the few black employees at Houghton Transportation and takes pride in her work as a corporate attorney. Yes, she is having an affair with her white, married boss but no one knows, do they? But when Ellie arrives early one morning and finds Michael has been shot, she panics and runs. When the police determine Michael has been murdered and Ellie is promoted to general counsel, she is one of the suspects. Ellie doesn’t have time to mourn her lover or take pride in her own achievement because she is afraid something is wrong at her own company and investigating may reveal some of her own long-buried secrets.
My Impression: Ellie’s life is bookended by secrets: her long affair with her boss and the secrets of her abusive childhood in a rural Georgia town. She won a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school that led to Georgetown and Yale Law School but left behind her younger mother and mother, physically and mentally, in order to cloak her past with the upward mobility that got her a prestigious job and salary. When she finds out her brother has been dragged into shady activity at Houghton, she knows she has to find out what is going on, partly to make up for having abandoned him when she was a teen and even at the risk of her own life . . .
This is a fast-paced suspense novel with interesting perspectives on race and the legal profession itself, with many contradictions. Ellie loves her brother but tells her colleagues she was an only child - to protect her status. She is bitterly resentful at being called a “diversity experiment” by Houghton’s VP of Operations, but followed her married lover there from their previous law firm, despite the obvious conflict of interest and how it would look if anyone knew. No one at Houghton seems to value her for the right reasons:
“You know, Ellice, I think you could be exactly what this company needs right now. A strong, smart lawyer who can shake off the cobwebs on some of the folks around here. Isn’t that right, Willow?”Well, I have done a lot of diversity training; it is rare that senior management turns up to participate and I doubt it would have made a difference with this good ol’ boy CEO, anyway! The author is a lawyer in Atlanta herself so has doubtless heard comments like this and worse.Source: Advanced Reading Copy provided by the publisher. This is my third mystery of 2022 for the Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge.
“I couldn’t agree more, Nate.” Willow never looked up as she brushed her hand across the hem of her sheath, as if she were flicking away invisible crumbs from her lap.
Nate winked again. “Look, I won’t lie. The fact that you’re black is like brown gravy on a biscuit.” He chuckled, amused by his own joke.
The company never did any diversity training and now it was showing.