The Bottom

Image of The Bottom (Willie Black) (Willie Black Mystery)
Release Date: 
August 31, 2015
Permanent Press
Reviewed by: 

The Bottom by Howard Owen races along at breakneck speed, hardly pausing long enough to allow one to catch a breath.”

Willie Black, hard-smoking and hard drinking crime reporter for a Richmond, Virginia, newspaper is trying to reform after a drunken argument with girlfriend Cindy. “I hardly drink anymore, and I’ve cut way back on the Camels.” Willie is exaggerating as he admits to himself. “Of course, this means two drinks a day instead of six and maybe six cigarettes instead of a pack.”

The point is that Willie is trying to be a better person, but one area where he has no intention of changing is his obsession to track down a story, tackle it to the ground, and write it up for the front page. “I just want to get a story and sink my teeth into it like a pit bull with anger issues.”

His current story is the Tweety Bird Killer, a serial killer who in the last eighteen months has killed four young women and tattooed the cartoon character on their ankles. Willie is not above lying to get his story. Perhaps lying is the wrong word. When he interviews the guard of the train station where the body is dumped, Willie doesn’t lie, not technically anyway.

“I tell him I have a few more questions about the dead body that somehow materialized just outside the lobby, on his watch. I somehow forget to mention that I’m asking on behalf of our shrinking readership rather than the police.”

Thanks to this oversight on Willie’s part, he learns the guard was lured from his post to a bar by a phone call from Willie’s own daughter, Andi. This is not good news. Willie is not happy to see Andi involved even in a small way in the Tweety Bird Case.

“I got this call, on my cell. The guy said there was an envelope under the napkin at the bar. . .there were two twenties and a note. The guy said one twenty was for me and the other one was for drinks for this guy I was supposed to call.”

Willie’s problem is to track down whoever made the phone call, a difficult job since he has no idea who he is looking for. Neither do the police until a low life photographer named Ronnie Sax started showing his neighbor some porn shots of underage girls. The neighbor calls the cops, who find photos of two of the victims on Ronnie’s computer.

This is not Ronnie’s first arrest on porn charges. On the previous occasion Willie was blunt about his feelings. “As the father of a daughter, I think now that, in a similar situation, I might have shot Ronnie Sax.” Still, as a serial killer Ronnie Sax is not a serious suspect as far as Willie Black is concerned.

A better suspect is Wat Chenault, a fat, aging former state senator, whose political career was torpedoed when Willie discovered that Chenault was cavorting with a 14-year-old girl in a hotel room, and wrote a story about it, with an accompanying photo.

Chenault is suing the newspaper because Willie resurrected the story after the sleazy Chenault announces plans to develop The Bottom, a section of old Richmond where an unmarked slave cemetery is supposed to exist. Willie is bi-racial, and it’s possible some of his father’s ancestors are buried in that cemetery.

Putting aside Chenault’s plans for real estate development, the slave cemetery, and his penchant for underage girls, there is the fact that Willie can find no trace of the teenager who originally ripped away the former state senator’s mask of respectability. She disappeared shortly after Willie originally broke the story and has not been seen since.

Ronnie Sax is arrested. The Tweety Bird Killer is in jail. Richmond women are safe. When Willie receives letters from someone claiming to be the real killer, and furthermore reveals details about the victims that the police have withheld from the public, Willie knows the murderer is still free. “Sax looks like a natural. I was pretty much ready to pull the switch myself. Now, with the letter, I’m not so sure.”

If the Tweety Bird Killer isn’t Ronnie Sax, and it isn’t Wat Chenault, and Willie now has a good reason to believe that Wat may be a scumbag, but not a killer, then who is raping and murdering the young women of Richmond?

The Bottom by Howard Owen races along at breakneck speed, hardly pausing long enough to allow one to catch a breath. Written in sparse journalistic style, with few adjectives and no unnecessary words, The Bottom features wonderful characters who are just eccentric enough to be amusing without being stereotypes. While some mystery fans may not care for Willie’s use of profanity, it is appropriate to his character. This is a perfect read for those who like their mysteries blunt and to the point.