Black Art by V.T. Davy is a perfectly well-constructed piece of noir, a Jengalike masterpiece of clues that lead to more shocking clues before finally culminating in a payoff and solution that was actually worth the buildup. (I’m often frustrated by fiction where the resolution, whether romantic or suspenseful, doesn’t stand up to the power of the scenes leading up to it. This was not that.) I was really impressed with how deftly the author laid out the road map to higher and higher stakes, never getting ahead of himself. The plot starts out with a famous but mysterious actress (the most noiriest tropiest character in the book) searching for her roots, namely, her grandmother who may have been captured by the Germans during the second world war.
I’m a big fan of the idea that marginalized groups previously excluded from representation in all the great beloved forms of fiction should get to have their day with gloriously tropey tropes. After all, it’s incredibly demoralizing to be shut out of things that are supposedly “universal.” The narrator/MC, like the author, is a trans man living in the island of Jersey. His transness isn’t the topic of the story but figures as color–for example, using other people’s reaction to finding out as a way to learn more about their character–and a way to make the mustache-twirling supervillain seem like even more of a schmuck (there is misgendering for the sake of insult, but the narrator handles it with the offhand suaveness you’d expect from James Bond.) Most people on the island itself know but don’t seem to care, so if you’re after that kind of reading experience, it’s pretty satisfying.
I have to say, this was not an easy book for the granddaughter of Shoah refugees to read. It’s not that the book itself or its narrative is antisemitic. Far from it. I’ve just never seen a villain this antisemitic and he was fucking terrifying. There was also a lot of talking about Nazis and WWII-era Germany and camps and since I knew the book was set in present-day it caught me off guard. Don’t let this keep you from the book but I think I’m saying that if this is the kind of thing you need extra emotional armor to read, go grab it? Do not take this paragraph lightly.
This is not “a romance”, although the MC has sex with more than one of the tropey female characters and I’m pretty sure that the MC did wind up with one of them at the end. It’s primarily a James Bond/noir type story that happens to have some hooking up in it because most of those types of stories do.
I just have to say again how impressed I was with the construction of this thing. I feel like most multimillion dollar summer blockbuster movies of this type aren’t this well laid out, honestly. They lead up to something unrealistic and bombastic like someone trying to “take over the world” or “destroy the internet” and that just makes me feel like they think I’m five.
TW for some references to tragic lesbians in the past.