23 Shades of Black is socially conscious crime fiction. It takes place in New York City in the early 1980s, i.e., the Reagan years, and was written partly in response to the reactionary discourse of the time, when the current thirty-year assault on the rights of working people began in earnest, and the divide between rich and poor deepened with the blessing of the political and corporate elites. But it is not a political tract, it’s a kick-ass novel that was nominated for the Edgar and the Anthony Awards, and made Booklist’s Best First Mysteries of the Year.
The heroine, Filomena Buscarsela, is an immigrant who experienced tremendous poverty and injustice in her native Ecuador, and who grew up determined to devote her life to helping others. She tells us that she really should have been a priest, but since that avenue was closed to her, she chose to become a cop instead. The problem is that as one of the first Latinas on the NYPD, she is not just a woman in a man’s world, she is a woman of color in a white man’s world. And it’s hell. Filomena is mistreated and betrayed by her fellow officers, which leads her to pursue a case independently in the hopes of being promoted to detective for the Rape Crisis Unit.
Along the way, she is required to enforce unjust drug laws that she disagrees with, and to betray her own community (which ostracizes her as a result) in an undercover operation to round up undocumented immigrants. Several scenes are set in the East Village art and punk rock scene of the time, and the murder case eventually turns into an investigation of corporate environmental crime from a working class perspective that is all-too-rare in the genre.
And yet this thing is damn funny, too.
- “Packed with enough mayhem and atmosphere for two novels.”
- “Wishnia cuts a different path with his stories and novels, choosing subjects, settings, and characters of a sort the reader is unlikely to encounter in the mainstream of mystery and crime fiction. His fine sensibility and skillful prose will appeal to discriminating readers.”
—Janet Hutchings, editor of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine
About Kenneth Wishnia:
Kenneth Wishnia’s novels include 23 Shades of Black, an Edgar Allan Poe Award and Anthony Award finalist; Soft Money, a Library Journal Best Mystery of the Year; and Red House, a Washington Post “Rave” Book of the Year and The Fifth Servant, an Indie Notable selection, a Jewish Press Best Mystery of the Year, winner of a Premio Letterario ADEI-WIZO, and a finalist for the Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery Award.His short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, Queens Noir, Long Island Noir, Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail, and elsewhere. His latest novel, The Fifth Servant, was an Indie Notable selection, a Best Jewish Book of the Year according to the Association of Jewish Libraries, won a Premio Letterario ADEI-WIZO (the Italian chapter of the Women’s International Zionist Organization), and was a finalist for the Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery Award, a category of the Macavity Awards. Most recently, he edited the Anthony Award-nominated anthology Jewish Noir for PM Press. He teaches writing, literature and other deviant forms of thought at Suffolk Community College on Long Island.
About Barbara D’Amato (introduction):
Barbara D’Amato has won the Carl Sandburg Award for Fiction, the Mary Higgins Clark award, the Anthony twice, the Agatha twice, the Macavity, and others. She is a past president of Mystery Writers of America and of Sisters in Crime International.
Author: Kenneth Wishnia
Introduction by: Barbara D’Amato
Publisher: PM Press
Published April 2012
Size: 8 by 5
Page count: 300 Pages