My first novel, Sins of Omission: Racism, politics, conspiracy, and justice in Florida , explored why powerful forces in the South felt threatened by the decades-old murder of a black activist. Cheryl A. Head tackles the same question in her excellent novel Time’s Undoing. Cheryl’s answer to the puzzle is the same as mine, and her protagonist, Meghan McKenzie, is also a journalist.
But Cheryl takes this story in a different and intriguing direction, for McKenzie is Black, and the murder she investigates is that of her great-grandfather, Robert Lee Harrington. (The story is based on an incident in Cheryl’s own family.) She sets it against the background of the Black Lives Matter movement, which gives her novel an immediacy that seems ripped from today’s headlines.
Time’s Undoing shifts between Meghan’s contemporary investigation and Harrington’s account of his arrival in Birmingham, Alabama and his subsequent run-in with a local police detective in 1929.
Cheryl is the author of the award-winning Charlie Mack Motown series of detective novels, and she knows how to write, painting scenes of Birmingham a century apart that make you feel you are walking its streets. Her characters come to life, and her descriptions of 1929 soul food and 2019 health food make you salivate.
On prominent display is her ability to put herself in the minds of a single young Black journalist and a Black laborer and family man from nine decades before. She pulls this off with a skill that never calls attention to itself.
For mystery lovers, there’s an Easter egg in the name of the crooked cop, but her greatest achievement is an awe-inspiring trick in Harrington’s narrative that does not reveal itself until the end.
Is this book a mystery? Yes. A historical novel? Yes. Is it African-American literature? Yes. And book club fiction. And more.
It is an engaging novel from an accomplished author that can be read and enjoyed by anyone who loves a good story well told.