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Review: Scarlett Undercover

Scarlett Undercover
Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m torn with my rating. Basically, I gave it two stars because there were too many times during my reading when I thought Oh, C’mon! Really? The really crappy thing is that the book has a female Muslim main character and introduces several characters of color. I had such high hopes, but the diversity and the atypical mythology were not enough to overcome the issues with the writing and the plot.

I was really confused at the beginning of the book. I thought maybe I was reading a second or third book in a series because Scarlett, as narrator, seems to be working on the assumption that readers know about her history as a private detecive. Farther into the story, missing pieces are provided about Scarlett’s age and how she is running this “business”, but I wanted that information earlier.

Perhaps Latham is going for a bit of a “film noir” feel, providing the backstory in catchy asides as the initial action develops, but it didn’t come fast enough to feel organic. The other bit that fits the “film noir” piece are the truly cringe-worthy metaphors and similes Scarlett uses during narration. A grungy, middle-aged man with a cigar in his mouth MIGHT be able to get away with “her comment was as blunt as a billy club” but a barely 18 year-old black Muslim girl? No. It was not believable that this type of girl would speak or think that way. Another unbelievable element is Scarlett’s client: a nine year-old girl (Gemma) who find Scarlett’s business card in her private school bathroom. Gemma comes to Scarlett’s office alone to retain her services, and while the wad of cash she pulls out of her backpack for Scarlett’s fee rings true to how a nine year-old would attempt to pay, I kept wondering How the hell did she get there all by herself?

Finally, there are the truly incredible coincidences that pile up from page one. The “villain” happens to have body markings that match a pattern on a mysterious flask that belonged to Scarlett’s father. Scarlett’s love interest happens to have a tattoo of the same markings. Love Interest’s dad just happens to show up (they thought he was dead) and seems to be involved in this secret plot. Scarlett’s dad’s murder from years past seems to be connected to this completely random case brought to her by Gemma. Adults seem to wilt and follow Scarlett’s orders despite basic common sense: the whole scene with Delilah recanting her earlier safety admonitions to Scarlett rings false.

Having said all that, I would DEFINITELY recommend it to readers of color who are looking for themselves as narrators. The black, famale Muslim perspective is unique and the theology/mythology surrounding King Solomon provides a nice change from the white Anglo-Saxon, Christian female heroine. Overall, I was really rooting for this book, but in the end there is just too much coincidence and contrivance to overcome.

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