Outside Child, by Alice Wilson-Fried is a marvelous masterpiece of murder and mayhem on the Mississippi. Ladonis Washington wants nothing more than to make it to the top of her career. She will do just about anything to get there. She is tough, hardworking and dedicated. She works for the Floating Palace Steamboat Company in public relations. One day her friend and mentor Tim is reported missing, presumed dead. She is put in charge of keeping a lid on publicity. Her assignment quickly places her in the midst of the mysterious investigation into his death. When his body is found it is determined he was murdered. Ladonis spends her time searching for answers to Tim’s death, although through it all has an epiphany of her own that impacts her own outlook on life.
This is a debut novel by a storyteller with a natural gift for capturing the southern dialect and conversational speech from both ends of New Orleans’ society. At times her characters' conversations touch your emotions like a symphony that plays to the depth of your soul. It can be sharp, quick, witty, laughable, attacking and often deadly. The characters are memorable, so much so that it could easily be adapted to a screenplay or live theater. Each character is shaped by their speech and the role they play or the nickname they're called by. How can you forget Laundry Man, Preacher Man, HeartTrouble, L’il Boy, JockStrap and Big Blake?
My favorite scene from the book is when Ladonis visits her mother. Her mom is complaining because Ladonis doesn’t visit often and says to her, “You don’t miss the water till the well is dry.” Now who can’t relate to this remorse ridden remark? I immediately felt guilty for women all over the world. The words are priceless. Ladonis on the other hand has nicknames for her mother’s three personalities and decides that this day she is Martyr Theresa. On other days she may call her Sick Puppy or Pissed Off.
This situation is so real, images of a time ticking by come to mind. Ladonis is too young to get that yet. It's a mother daughter thing. You love your mom, yet she drives you crazy. This conversation touches my heart and I felt the writer is very honest in her portrayal of their relationship. She makes you think about how precious the time you spend with your mom is and she captures the moment here beautifully.
Wilson-Fried, who grew up in the Magnolia Housing Projects, tackles the racism and social aspects of New Orleans. She shows how the marginal members of society, blacks, women and gays are still the city’s outside children. To break into the New Orleans’ white male dominated business and political arena there are challenges and tough choices needed to succeed with the endurance of a marathon runner. This is a theme that does not overpower the story but is the story. The mystery is a bonus, a wonderful who-done-it.
Anxiety ridden moments of anticipation will make you read on. You will hang on a limb at the end of each chapter. Don’t miss reading this pre-Katrina New Orleans thriller.