BLAND, Eleanor Taylor 1944-
PERSONAL: Born December 21, 1944 in Boston, MA; daughter of Leroy (a cab driver) and Mildred (a homemaker; maiden name, Gershefski) Taylor; divorced; children: two sons. Education: Attended College of Lake County and Southern Ilinois University.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Ave., Rm. 1715, New York, NY 10010.
CAREER: Author of mystery novels. Abbot Laboratories, cost accountant, 1981-99. Served on the national board of directors of Mystery Writers of America; charter member and past secretary of Sisters in Crime; member of board of directors for Lake County Council against Sexual Assault, Staben House (transitional housing facility for women with children), Theater of Sound Concert Chorus, Waukegan Friends of the Library, and honorary board for the Genesee Theater Restoration. Also serves as business partner and author-in-residence for Waukegan school district No. 60, Warren Newport Township Library and Charles V. Woodson Regional Library, Chicago.
AWARDS, HONORS: PEN Oakland Josephine Miles award; Chester A. Himes Mystery Fiction award; College of Lake County Distinguished Alumnus award; Most Influential African American of Lake County award.
"MARTI MACALISTER" SERIES; NOVELS
Dead Time, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1992.
Slow Burn, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1993.
Gone Quiet, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1994.
Done Wrong, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Keep Still, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1996.
See No Evil, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Tell No Tales, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Scream in Silence, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Whispers in the Dark, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2001.
WIndy City Dying, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2002
Contributor to anthologies, including Women on the Case, edited by Sarah Paretsky; Spooks, Spies, and Private Eyes, edited by Paula A. Woods; Malice Domestic 7, edited by Sharon McCrumb; Murder on Route 66, edited by Carolyn Wheat; The Night Awakens, edited by Mary Higgins Clark; and The World's Finest Mystery and Crime Stories, edited by Ed Gorman.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Working on the eleventh novel in the "Marti MacAlister" series, Haunted Remains. Also working on short story for anthology (editor and contributor with grandson Anthony Arnell Bland) Shades of Black: Crime and Mystery Stories by African-American Authors, for Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), forthcoming, 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Mystery novelist Eleanor Taylor Bland is known for her detective series featuring Marti MacAlister. According to a reviewer for Detecting Women 2, MacAlister was the first female African-American homicide detective to be the star of a series. A former Chicago cop, she has moved to the suburb of Lincoln Prairie, Illinois following the apparent suicide of her policeman husband. After joining the Lincoln Prairie police force, she proceeds to solve suburban crimes by using urban smarts. With as much emphasis on behind-the-scenes involvement with family, community, and personal issues as on police and detective work, Bland's books have attracted a loyal readership. Particularly noted by reviewers is the rich thematic texture of Bland's novels, which tend to portray murder investigations against a multi-layered backdrop of contemporary social issues.
In Bland's first novel, Dead Time, Detective MacAlister investigates the flophouse death of a wealthy, schizophrenic woman and the deaths of some possible witnesses to that crime. Library Journal reviewer Rex. E. Klett commented that although Bland effectively integrates details in the novel, she does so in "a detached Page 34 | Top of Article and often flat manner." However, a Publishers Weekly critic noted that the relationship between MacAlister and her white male partner was depicted with "sensitivity and humor." According to this reviewer, Bland portrayed "with chilling reality" the problems of the mentally ill and children at risk.
In the follow-up, Slow Burn (1993), a medical clinic is torched, leaving two dead. This act is connected with a local child-pornography scheme and a hit-and-run accident. Stuart Miller of Booklist hailed the novel as "a well-paced, cleverly plotted procedural with fully developed, engaging characters. Bland is a writer not to be missed." Although a Publishers Weekly reviewer complained that "social issues tend to overshadow [the] plot," a Kirkus Reviews critic, on the other hand, found this second novel "more polished" than the first and applauded the "nuances" of the depiction of MacAlister's personal and professional life.
In her third novel, Gone Quiet (1994), Bland portrays an investigation confined within the black community of Lincoln Prairie. A revered deacon from a Baptist church, who is secretly a pedophile, is killed in his sleep. His stepdaughter, MacAlister's friend Denise, is a suspect. Calling the novel "very good," Booklist reviewer Miller wrote, "This solidly plotted, entertaining mystery features a deft portrait of the entangled lives in the Baptist church community.... Marti MacAlister is a keeper." A Kirkus Reviews critic stated that Gone Quiet is "probably the most low-key tale of murder and child abuse you've ever encountered," and Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times Book Review appreciated Bland's understated approach, calling the novel "closely observed, carefully written and admirable."
In Done Wrong (1994) Bland takes MacAlister back to Chicago to reinvestigate the death of her husband Johnny. Johnny's partner on the police force has just died, and that too has been adjudged a suicide, but MacAlister believes neither verdict. Returning to the city, she is shocked to uncover some secrets in her husband's life, but in solving the mystery of his demise, Marti and her children come to terms with his death. Washington Post Book World reviewer Paul Skenazy liked the book enormously: "Bland is a fine storyteller. Her book is carefully tuned, the language quiet, the pacing steady, the plot full of wonderfully surprising turns." He commended Bland's handling of MacAlister's racial consciousness, and the descriptions of Chicago street life as well as of Marti's home life. He regretted Bland's frequent jumps into the points of view of other characters, but added warmly, "What always works for Bland, however, is Marti herself." In Booklist, Emily Melton asserted that the novel "boasts a tightly woven plot, fine writing, and plenty of action, but what really distinguishes it is the depiction of Marti MacAlister." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented that although Bland's novels are not as compelling as some, "the understated Marti is a strong, quiet presence, and her story resonates."
Similar plaudits and reservations concerning Bland's low-key effectiveness and her protagonist's character were awarded to the fifth "Marti MacAlister" novel, Keep Still (1996). Here, two apparently unrelated murders—those of an elderly lady and a motel manager—are linked when it turns out that both victims were advocates for a missing abused child. Reviewer Maureen Corrigan, in the Washington Post Book World, found MacAlister "rather, well, bland....too goody-goody," but specified that the mystery itself "unfolds cleverly enough." Much more in tune with Bland's approach was Miller of Booklist, who called Keep Still "[a] stellar installment in an excellent series" and hailed Bland for clearly describing "the appalling human capacity for evil" that offsets Marti's personal ideal of justice. A Publishers Weekly reviewer proclaimed, "Bland pulls no punches in this tale as she bares the harrowing realities of child abuse for her readers."
Continuing the pursuit of what Paul Kaplan of Library Journal called Detective MacAlister's "lost cause cases," See No Evil brings together a multi-dimensioned crime story. The crime centers on the death of a young woman whose body is discovered near the shore of Lake Michigan. Meanwhile, Marti MacAlister and her family are being stalked by a man who may hold the key to solving the murder. Paul Kaplan of Library Journal noted the "dramatic storytelling" achieved through the character of the man and commented that Bland "excels at painting everyday, gritty street life."
A more introspective tale is Tell No Tales, in which Bland's detective, Marti MacAlister and her Polish-American colleague, Vic Jessenovik, are involved in solving the mystery of a mummified corpse. While they are investigating the murder, the reclusive, mentally Page 35 | Top of Article ill son of the theater owner is also murdered and found in another abandoned downtown building. Drawing connections between the two incidents, the two detectives begin to solve the mystery. Subplots include family and personal issues for both detectives, as MacAlister adjusts to her recent remarriage, and Jessenovik is faced with a recurrence of his wife's illness. When leads in the murder investigation implicate an old police mentor of Jessenovik, stresses also develop between the two detectives, which cause them to reevaluate their professional relationship. Publishers Weekly noted, "Bland again engages the reader on many levels." Stuart Miller of Booklist observed, "Bland has produced her most complicated plotline yet, and she delivers it with verve."
In Scream in Silence an arsonist and psychopathic bomber is on the loose in Marti MacAlister's hometown of Lincoln Prairie, Illinois. Virginia, an unpopular town busybody, is found dead of a gunshot wound in the basement of a burned-down house. MacAlister discovers that Virginia had engaged in shady land transactions and possibly blackmail as well. The detective also uncovers a petty scam artist on the make, looking for opportunities. Various members of MacAlister's extended family play roles in what Publishers Weekly called "a generously layered novel, with the best parts peripheral to the mystery."
MacAlister returns in Whispers in the Dark to investigate a series of unsolved murders perpetrated over a twenty year span. Called "gripping from the opening sentence through its chilling final scene" by Publishers Weekly, Whispers in the Dark involves encounters with some of the most unsavory aspects of modern urban life, including prostitution, drug trafficking, and AIDS. Particularly grisly is the discovery of severed hands protruding from the earth with beckoning fingers. The murder case eventually leads into the art world and an elitist guild and to MacAlister's close friend, Sharon, who has eloped with a slick talker to the Bahamas, leaving behind her daughter Lisa, and her AIDS-stricken mother. Publishers Weekly noted, "Beyond a simple murder case, the novel becomes an engrossing story of the more violent conflicts between society's 'insiders and the excluded' . . . Bland's obvious familiarity with urban issues lends credibility to her riveting style." Stuart Miller of Booklist highlighted the book's theme of exclusion, calling it, "Powerful stuff, indeed," and cautioned, "Don't miss it."
Bland told CA: "Writing is fun for me. I write like a reader, I want to enjoy the book too. As you read one of my novels, in writing it, I was about three chapters ahead of you. I plot and outline as I write. When I am ready to write the prologue, I am ready to write the book. I write about social issues, particularly those that affect women and children, and also about members of society who I do not fell have a voice unless we speak for them (especially true of children.) I write about what makes me angry or engages me emotionally. I feel that my primary responsibility to the reader is as a storyteller, so I do not preach but incorporate themes and issues into the body of the work through my characters. I also keep the story from getting too dark through humorous asides and sub plots. Fully developed characters are essential to my work. The novels can be read as stand alones. Marti, her two children, Joanna 16, and Theo and Mike, both 11, her second husband, Ben, her mother, her best friend, Sharon, and Sharon's daughter, Lisa, also 16 take turns with sub plots in each novel. Other characters recur periodically. I am very proud of the way the four children are developing and maturing. I don't tell any of my characters who they are. They tell me. When they came to me with a name, I know they are ready to disclose information about themselves. When they do not tell me their name, I know I will have to pull out of them whatever I need to know.
"I also write about Waukegan, Illinois and surrounding towns and life north of a big city—Chicago. I renamed the immediate area, calling it Lincoln Prairie, so that I could take a few liberties, such as relocating buildings and landmarks, renaming streets, and redesigning the police station."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Heising, Willetta L., editor, Detecting Women 2, Purple Moon Press (Dearborn, MI), 1996, p. 30.
Booklist, September 1, 1993, Stuart Miller, review of Slow Burn, p. 39; June 1 8 15, 1994, p. 1775; June 1 8 15, 1995, p. 1733; July, 1996, Stuart Miller, review of Keep Still, p. 1806; January 1, 1999, Stuart Miller, review of Tell No Tales, p. 836; September 15, 2001, Stuart Miller, review of Whispers in the Dark, p. 197.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1993, review of Dead Time, p. 751; May 15, 1994, review of Gone Quiet, p. 662; January, 1999, review of Tell No Tales, p. 24; September 1, 2001, review of Whispers in the Dark, p. 1245.
Library Journal, February 1, 1992, Rex E. Klett, review of Dead Time, p. 129; January, 1999, Rex E. Klett, review of Tell No Tales, p. 164; April 15, 1999, Paul Kaplan, review of See No Evil, p. 176; November 1, 1999, Ann Burns and Emily J. Jones, review of Scream in Silence, p. 103; March 1, 2000, Rex E. Klett, review of Scream in Silence, p. 128.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 10, 1994, Charles Champlin, review of Gone Quiet, p. 8.
Publishers Weekly, February 3, 1992, review of Dead Time, p. 66; June 14, 1993, review of Slow Burn, p. 63; May 15, 1995, review of Done Wrong, p. 58; May 27, 1996, review of Keep Still, p. 69; January 25, 1999, review of Tell No Tales, p. 75; January 17, 2000, review of Scream in Silence, p. 47; October 1, 2001, review of Whispers in the Dark, p. 41.
Washington Post Book World, July 16, 1995, Paul Skenazy, review of Done Wrong, p. 6; August 18, 1996, Maureen Corrigan, review of Keep Still, p. 8;
February 27, 1999, review of Tell No Tales, p. 8.
Cush City, http://www.cushcity.com/cushcity.com (December 2, 2001), review of Whispers in the Dark.
Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3415200029