Bury Me When I’m Dead by Cheryl Head is a good old-fashioned whodunit, starring a cast of well-developed characters that help to ground its complex plot. Before I begin, a caveat or two: The protagonist of this novel isn’t lesbian, she’s bisexual, and that adds a little something extra to the plot (more on this later). Also, I haven’t read a mystery in a LONG time, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Do these things have a formula? Still, I know enough not to give too much away in this review, so no spoilers here.
The premise of the novel simple: Charlene (Charlie) Mack, a Detroit-based private investigator, (she actually owns her own PI firm), is hired by her old friend Leonard Abrams to find Joyce Stringer, a beloved employee who seems to have gotten wrapped up in an embezzlement scheme. Charlie and her PI partner Don Rutkowski, a former cop, quickly discover that there’s a lot more going on than a missing persons case: scandalous family secrets including infidelity and incest; murder, a crime ring, and at the core of it all, Charlie’s reluctance to admit her feelings for Mandy Porter, a well-respected Detroit cop.
The novel initially moves at a good pace, and Head’s exquisite attention to detail of the cityscapes of both Detroit and Birmingham, Alabama, (where much of the action takes place), is one of the novel’s strongest assets. I chuckled every time I read “meat and three,” a staple in soul food restaurants in my beloved south. These scenes also reminded me of Black migration stories, and how so many Black families traveled south-north routes to escape the racism of the south, only to be ostracized in the north as well. Head pays a lot of attention to the intersections of class, race, and gender in both regions, and these intersections figure prominently in how Charlie and Don run their investigations.
Earlier I promised more on issue of bisexuality in the novel, and here are my thoughts on that: Charlie really, (and I mean really), seems to enjoy sex with women, but has a problem with the fact that she might be falling in love with one. So much so that she has a booty call with her ex-husband to try to get rid of those feelings. She’s also engaged in an adulterous affair with Don, feeding into the stereotype that bisexual folks just want sex and don’t care who they hurt. As a human, I realize that there are people who actually do these things, regardless of their sexual orientation or identity, but this representation of bisexuality left me with a bad taste in my mouth. In Charlie’s defense, she finally admits that she’s struggling with internalized homophobia, but for me the admission comes a little too late.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel and although it seemed to slow down a little at the end, (there were lots of subplots to sort out), I’m looking forward to Head’s next book in this series. I’m interested in seeing how Charlie deals with her burgeoning romance with a woman, as well as what new mysteries she’ll have to solve.
Reviewer: Stephanie Andrea Allen
Stephanie Andrea Allen, Ph.D., is a native southerner and out Black lesbian writer, scholar, and educator. She is the author of a collection of short stories and essays, A Failure to Communicate, (BLF Press 2017), and is hard at work on her first novel. Connect with Stephanie on Twitter, Goodreads, or Facebook.