On the run after killing two crooked cops, Chicago PD Detective Elliot Caprice finds himself in a jailhouse in St. Louis on false charges. He enlists friends from his hometown of Southville, IL to secure his release and returns to find the family farm in foreclosure, and the man who raised him dying in a flophouse.
Desperate for money, he accepts a job from the son of a deadly Jewish mobster and eventually crosses paths with a powerful family from Chicago’s North Shore. A captain of industry is dead, and the key to his estate disappeared with the chauffeur. There’s good money in it if Elliot finds him, but the mixed-race son of Illinois farm country must return to the Windy City with the cops on his heels, the Syndicate at his throat, and the wealthy and powerful at his back.
Good thing he’s used to playing both sides to the middle.
Beginning with HBO's Def Comedy Jam (Season 3,) Danny Gardner has enjoyed careers in acting, stand-up comedy, and filmmaking. His debut novel, A Negro and an Ofay, was nominated for several awards, including the Shamus Award for Best First Novel (2018.) He lives and works in Los Angeles by way of Chicago, Illinois, USA. Ace Boon Coon is his second novel.
Absolutely positively a five star read. It is a tough, gritty crime fiction novel set in early fifties Chicago, St. Louis, and Southville. But it's far more than just another mystery novel as it creates a whole world of characters and places.
Elliot Caprice, the lead character, is a light-skinned man of mixed race in a time when that really mattered. As such, he sometimes straddles the line between two worlds. He is part of the Black community, but sometimes he can pass for White. Much of the action takes place in Southville, in-between the Jim Crow South and the Midwest, the world of corrupt mob-controlled Chicago. Race is often front and center in this story, but it's not what this story is about, at least plotwise.
The novel is filled with corruption, blackmail, murder, flight, jazz clubs, drug addicts, rooming houses, captivating widows, gunfights, brawls, and Senate Committtes. There's so much vividly portrayed life here that it's hard to believe it's Gardner's first published novel.
Gardner’s A NEGRO AND AN OFAY captures the corruption and racial unrest of 1950s Chicago with stylish precision. The story opens with disgraced Chicago PD Detective Elliott Caprice in a St. Louis jail. He enlists the help of his buddy George who is now the sheriff of his hometown to bail him out. That’s when his troubles really begin. I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say Caprice harbors a shady past that comes back to haunt him.
I have to admit, I normally don’t like third person omniscient narrators. This is told from Caprice’s POV for the most part, but Gardner will jump into another character’s head. Usually, this drives me nuts. But in this case, it worked. That’s a sign of damn good storytelling which brings me to my next point. Gardner is a born storyteller and with the 1950s Chicago setting, you've got noir storytelling at its very best. There’s a naturalness and ease about this book despite a complex and dense plot. It flows effortlessly, and the dialogue has a wonderful cadence to it. I feel like if Gardner told me a tale on the spot, it’d be surprising, dramatic, and entertaining. To me, that’s a born storyteller, and it comes through loud and clear in this electrifying debut.
"It wasn't panic or reflex that guided his hand, but prescience. The same sense that told him the moment he took the gun from the barn, he'd be killing someone with it. He just hadn't expected it would be so soon, and in full view of the jazz-loving public."
Elliot Caprice is the ultimate in-betweener--born to white and black parents, Caprice finds himself operating on both sides of the law, traversing the small town of Southville as well as The Windy City. A WW2 vet betrayed by his friends in law enforcement, Caprice skips jail only to wind up working for a civil rights attorney, negotiating a dangerous path between Chicago's old money families and the heirs to Al Capone's empire.
An intense crime thriller, with smart social commentary and an authoritative prose style, A Negro and an Ofay is a great read. Highly recommended.
I received an ARC of the book with no strings and no promise to review it, but it was a pleasure to do so because it was a pleasure to read. Danny Gardner can write. If you like crime fiction with something to say, avail yourself of A Negro and an Ofay ASAP.
I enjoyed this a lot, not just because it ticks a lot of my boxes (gangster-related, period piece, vaguely hard-boiled, aware of race), but because it ticks them well. The writing and characterizations possess a complexity that those who turn their noses up at 'genre fiction' don't believe exists in that world (because, you know, they've never looked), and the book's unflinching exploration of race -- told through the eyes of a mixed-race man so light he sometimes passes -- are well-observed, cutting, and rueful. Finally, Elliot is a great character: troubled, thoughtful, and to the point in his messy life where he suddenly feels vulnerable in moments through which he used to blaze with fiery confidence. He and the motley team that has gathered him around him are a group of whom I'm looking forward to seeing more.
Danny Gardner has written a fresh, smart, politically savvy and incorrect noir period piece rife with social injustice, racial nuance, high crimes and misdirections. A next-generation Walter Moseley, his characters are a hoot and a half and his story-telling a runaway train. If you like noir and are looking for a good time, don't miss this book from a budding star.
Easy read and compelling enough I read it in a single day (Labor day so I had the day off) only putting it down for meals, and a trip to the supermarket. The characters were interesting, and the story was engaging. The social commentary was also of interest to me. Danny is great story teller, his command of english and slang wove a compelling crime drama that drew me in.
A Negro and an Ofay by Danny Gardner tells the story of Elliot Caprice. The story begins with Elliot in jail before he gets released with the help of his reverend/sheriff friend, George. After release, Elliot goes back to Chicago where he gets entangled in a world of crime. This is a crime fiction set up in the 1950s. It is fast paced with a lot of action. The writing was great and I liked the fact that the author uses a lot of dialogue in the story. I think my favorite part of the book was the setting. The author did a great job with the world building. The language, characterization and descriptions of the setting brought it alive and got me lost in the time period. Corruption and racial relations are themes in the story that further portray the time period. The protagonist being mixed race places him at the centre of the identity conflict. Apart from the setting, the character development is another aspect that I liked. The author not only created a complex, flawed but memorable protagonist but he also crafted support characters that really stood out. My only issue with the book was that it was a bit complex and felt heavy on the action. However, I recommend this book to fans of historical crime fiction.
What a fantastic addition to the post World War II noir genre! Great story line, well drawn characters, addictive reading, and an honest dose of the realism of 1950s style racism that plagued America. Danny Gardner does a brilliant job with Elliot Caprice portraying the complicated world of a light-skinned biracial military vet coming back to the world after the war. So glad I discovered this book. Highly recommended.
GNAB I received a free electronic copy of this historical (1952) novel from Netgalley, Danny Gardner, and Down and Out Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me.
This is a debut novel, an awesome tale, and told very well. What Walter Mosley has done for the deep coastal south and Los Angeles, Danny Gardner has accomplished for the Midwest and Chi Town. I hope this is the first of many more Elliot Caprice novels. Elliot, Uncle Nathan "Buster" Caprice, Doc Shapiro, George Stingley and Ned Reilly, and Frank Fuquay make an unparalleled team. pub date May 15 2017 red Aug 11, 2017 Down & Out Books
It’s fair to say that there’s a lot going on in Danny Gardner’s A Negro and an Ofay. At the core of the story is the conflicted life of Elliot Caprice, the light-skinned child of a black man and white woman, brought up traversing the black and white Jewish communities of Southville, Illinois; college educated, a military veteran, a former cop, and on the run after killing two cops when his cover as a Fed informer was blown. The tale follows Caprice’s attempt to save himself, his uncle and their farm after it is foreclosed by the bank by becoming involved in trying to resolve a battle over a rich Chicago family’s estate, which has been built on crime and corruption. At the same time, the story provides social commentary on racism and anti-Semitism pervading life in 1950s America. Caprice’s personal issues and the case are somewhat convoluted and both are a strength and weakness of the story. The strength is an engaging, flawed character fighting personal demons whilst dealing with a handful of simultaneous battles which ensure there’s a non-stop flow of action. The weakness is it is sometimes tricky to following what is happening, often amplified by Gardner’s pared back scenes that sacrifice detail for pace, which led to me re-reading passages to pick up nuances that seemed to skip by. The result was a story that seemed to hurtle along through a maze, when a little less pace and some embellishment at times would have given the reader a better sense of the journey. Nonetheless, there’s plenty to like, especially Caprice and the historical window into 1950s race relations in the US, and the tale is hopefully the start of a series.
The crime genre, much like the horror and science fiction genres, is one of those arenas where a writer can submerge deep within its vast, concrete jungle and get lost. Crime writers can burrow into limitless catacombs and unending subterranean tunnels and find almost anything — say almost anything. Once the city is constructed and the stage built, there’s potential for an author to overturn any number of stones, as many as the imagination can see.
In A Negro and an Ofay: The Tales of Elliot Caprice, author Danny Gardner overturns many stones, sharing with us a canvas tethered to geography, haunted by history and in conflict with competing identities. Our protagonist, Elliot Caprice, is a man who can camouflage himself and walk within two worlds. He’s half black and half white, an ex-cop pursued by those he once considered colleagues. He’s now finding work in the criminal underworld, taking up jobs that have him dealing with an ever-expanding catalogue of shady characters.
Yet, in Caprice’s tale, readers very much find an adventure born out of the Midwest — a working-class child grows up on the outskirts of a vast city and pursues the dreams, culture and ethos of cosmopolitan life. The allure of the bright lights draws him in, devouring and spitting this young man out, now abandoned at a crossroads between the bustling expressways and the outlying fields of corn. It’s up to Caprice to dust himself off and find his way.
Elliot Caprice finds himself in a desegregated jail cell beneath the St. Louis County Courthouse, which is only the beginning of his troubles as a biracial man navigating racism and colorism in 1952. Having left the Chicago PD, he has to call a friend back home in Southville, Illinois–now the first black county sheriff in the Midwest–for help. Being that Caprice hasn’t been home in quite some time, he’s forced to face the fact that the uncle who raised him is losing the farm and it’s time for him to stop running and help…which he tries to do by accepting a job with an attorney and promising to help on a case by producing the person needed for a will. But between his past (why he left the PD which is slowly revealed), his amazing ability to walk the fine line between bad and good, and the color of his skin, things aren’t ever easy for Caprice. Gardner does a great job of brining all the very different characters to life, inserting action movie scenes, and leaving you wanting more Elliot Caprice.
Danny Gardner’s A Negro and an Ofay was a refreshing read. Immediately upon opening the novel, Gardner immerses the reader into the main character Elliot Caprice’s mind. Caprice’s mindset is a mash of familial duty, scorn and guilt. Caprice is dead set on doing the right thing to right a wrong doing, but the world just ’t let him do it. Gardner creates a character that one can’t help but root for as he sorts out his sordid past and tries to forge a better future. The setting of the novel creates an abundance of societal tension to give Caprice a realistic feel and blends together characters that all have something to lose as they fight for Caprice’s internal war. There is so much going on in the novel, that the reader can get lost in the fictional story and begin to sense the injustice in present day. Being Negro doesn’t mean your black and being an Ofay doesn’t mean you’re white-ish. Gardner tosses race up into the air and makes reader’s question their stance on what is right and what is justice. A Negro and an Ofay at first glance looks like any other novel about the 1900s but it is much more than that – it is a book about what it means to be black and furthermore, what it means to be a man.
Danny Gardner is off to a flying start with his debut novel. A wonderfully rich cast of law men, twist, conmen hustlers and folks just trying to make it another day alive. Elliot Caprice is a complex dark heroic son of a bitch of a man. One I would roll with where ever he was going. 50's Chicago is fully realized, corruption decay and all. It is also a strong social commentary on race then and sadly now. My minor complaint is at times the rich language overwhelms the thrust of the story. Minor. Wherever Danny Gardner goes next as an author, I suspect it will be a hell of a place to hang.
It's got a lot of flair, a lot of heart, and a lot of good action. Plus, it's got a lot to say -- in a nuanced way -- about the subject of race in America, from the notable standpoint of a mixed-race main figure.
Elliot Caprice is certainly strong enough to carry a series, as the cover indicates is in store. However, I especially enjoyed the nicely detailed secondary cast, especially Big Frank, but also Mike and Elaine, among others.
I'll admit to getting a trifle confused about the plot -- the twist come thick and fast. But that tends to come with the territory in this genre, and The Tales of Elliot Caprice are a welcome addition.
I received this book from the publisher Down and Out Books through Netgalley, thank you very much for this Advance Readers Copy This is a 1950's historical crime fiction based in Chicago. The characters are very real and yet likeable. I would like to see them continued in a series. The plot is complex and dense, which left me behind on occasion. I found some of the dialogue difficult to understand especially in the beginning.
With A NEGRO AND AN OFAY, Danny Gardner is establishing himself as an upcoming writer to watch. No other writer right now has a voice or point of view like Gardner’s. It’s clear from his writing that he is passionate about both his storytelling and his characters. Gardner has something to say and we all need to pay attention when he puts pen to paper.
A Negro and an Ofay is a compelling story with vivid characters and an array of action in a world of crime. From the fully realized Elliott Caprice to the Reverend-turned-sheriff George Stingley, and everyone in between, Gardner creates an intriguing world in which you won't want to leave.
This gritty Urban Noir book is a loosely fictional account about a real person, Lieutenant William Drury, a person “known for personal bravery” as was said after his death. The story takes place in the early 1950’s in Chicago and includes fresh description and detail on the underbelly of life in the city and surroundings. This author’s mastery of language in both text description and in dialogue is compelling and a real treat to read. The beleaguered protagonist faces systemic corruption and Syndicate confrontation. His fight is lined with persistence, street smarts, and a degree of fatalism. The struggle demands attention and unrelenting commitment, and the author artfully crafts the story in a way that infuses the reader with a tangible passion for the fight.
Family and friendship are deep ties for Elliot Caprice, the Protagonist, in this book. I found these other characters also to be fascinating to read about in their dramatic relationships. I developed some real favorites among them, and I appreciate the strong men and women characters he creates in his writing. And just wait until you read the femme fatale. This author is a very successful and exhilarating genre bender who weaves unexpected elements into this Urban Noir.
You may know Danny Gardner as a young stand-up comedian (Def Comedy Jam All-Stars vol. 12), and he also enjoys careers as actor, director and screenwriter. He has several published short pieces of non-fiction and Noir. He’s a frequent reader at Noir at the Bar events nationwide, including in Seattle at the Sorrento Hotel’s Fireside Room. He’s also a regular blogger at 7 Criminal Minds. This is his first novel, and such an impressive start to what hopefully will be a series. He is originally from Chicago and there’s no doubt his deep feeling for his hometown partly inspired the novel. In fact, his dedication of the book is “To Chicago, my love. May your south and west sides rise again.”
Elliot Caprice is a cop on the run after charges that he killed two crooked colleagues. He returns to his hometown to find the family farm in foreclosure and the man who raised him dying in a flophouse. Desperate to raise the needed money, he starts working thanks to friends. He ends up crossing paths with a powerful family from Chicago’s north shore and a murder. Hired on the side, Elliot investigates with Chicago’s cops and the FBI breathing down his neck, the Mob watchful of his every step, and the wealthy and powerful pushing their own interests. Elliot Caprice is walking a tight wire.
And if you want to hear more from the author, tune onto YouTube and into Kendall & Cooper Talk Mysteries with Danny Gardner
Two chapters into this book, I looked at my husband and said "I want to write like Danny Gardner when I grow up."
I am not kidding.
Gardner's use of language is masterful. He puts us right into former Chicago police detective Elliot Caprice's world ... and it's not a pretty one. We meet Elliot when he's in jail during the Jim Crow era. Caprice is of mixed ethnicity (reference the title of the book; "ofay" was Black slang for white people during the period). He soon demonstrates that he is not only a bad-ass, but an intelligent man with a great deal of compassion for the underdog.
Once he's out of jail, Caprice takes on a job he doesn't want -- muscle for a Jewish gangster -- to help save his uncle's farm from the auction block. And soon, he's up to his eyeballs in a whole mess of bad stuff and bad people.
I heard a great definition of noir fiction recently: it's a bout losers making bad decisions. That's definitely true of the characters in Gardner's book. While they are all well-rounded characters rather than two-dimensional caricatures, none of the characters are what you'd call upstanding citizens. But they are determined to make the best of a hard-scrabble life, by any means necessary.
I found myself carried away not only by the tale, but also by Gardner's brilliant descriptions of people and places. Highly recommended.
Post WWII Chicago is a dangerous place, especially for Elliot Caprice. Half white and half black, raised by his uncle after his white mother left him, spent his childhood working for Jewish organized crime, relying on his intelligence to avoid trouble—barely!
After serving in WWII, Elliot returns to the States and finds himself in jail under an alias, on the run from the Chicago Police. Forced to reconnect with family and friends from his childhood for help, he begins to consider the roots he was trying to break away from might be just what he needs to find peace. He starts working for a white lawyer and realizes maybe he can solve his problems in Chicago, save his Uncle’s farm, and take a bite out of corruption in the Chicago PD.
Faced with all the adversity one would expect when dealing with corruption, Elliot also has to battle the racism that is steeped into every aspect of life. He builds an unlikely crew of, “two and one-half Negroes and two and one-half ofays” that work together to take on the Chicago police and the mobsters they protect.
Gardner’s style is hard-boiled, matter of fact with sex, violence, and dialogue. A bit slow to start, the novel steadily builds the characters and their relationships to make clear what motivates them, and the second half of the book moves at a lightening pace as Elliot’s plan is revealed.
This is a good book, but for me it was just too busy. There are competing motivations for Elliott, our main character, as he returns to his hometown following a stitch up in Chicago. There are also the undercurrent of racial tension throughout and there is just a bit too much going on at times to make this a smooth and truly captivating read.
Elliott Caprice is one of those great characters who straddles the line between good and bad, very literally in this case, having gone from debt collecting for the local bookie to joining the army in WW2 and becoming a cop thereafter. It reflects his skin tone and how he treated by both in that respect as he is just white to pass in white world when he needs to. He finds himself in prison in St. Louis and calls in a favour from his hometown to get released before learning that the uncle who raised him has lost his farm and needs help.
It takes time to get to the mystery part of the novel and it is here that things get messy as the tone shifts a touch and we become less concentrated upon Elliott himself, but rather on the new characters introduced. The mystery fails to be as compelling as out lead character.
Gardner does a great job of introducing us to a wonderful protagonist full of contradictions, but the mystery doesn’t quite fulfil the promise of the early stages of the book. Hoping for more consistency out of the sequel.
This is one of the best debuts I've read in a long time. Set in the 1950s Chicago area, Elliot Caprice is a mix-raced cop who knows both sides of the law and isn't afraid of playing them against each other to achieve his ends. In this case, he needs to save his family farm from foreclosure so he reluctantly takes a job as a process server for a lawyer acquaintance and quickly finds himself caught between Chicago law enforcement, a powerful family, and organized crime.
Nothing is simple in Elliot's world and though he's certainly morally flawed, he errs on the side of good more often or not. He's capable and sexy, never overbearing or over-the-top. Gardner's depiction of time, place, and character is so spot-on I marveled at his world and character building talent. In my opinion, Gardner is poised to be a break-out author--if this book doesn't do it, his next one will.
This is an action packed mystery which captures the zeitgeist of 1950s Chicago against the backdrop of the birthing pangs of the civil rights movement, the onset of the heroin epidemic, and the federal investigations into organized crime. Although it is exciting with many fully fleshed characters complete with flaws, some of the twists and turns in this story are sketchy. The author alludes to facts, but doesn’t fully describe them, although some play a critical role in understanding the resolution of the mysteries embedded in the main plot and various subplots. The author also makes some errors in his references to the historic record, and the book has a few typographical errors.
The book’s ending appears to be a chapter too long.
Nevertheless, despite its flaws, the story is an enjoyable and satisfying read.
A nice change of pace. Gardner has strong character development and strong skills in weaving a story.
Elliot Caprice is a half-white, half-negro in the times when segregation was still a thing and a black police officer was hardly heard of thing but Caprice was a detective with the Chicago PD before things went sideways and he ended up killing two crooked cops.
The story starts with Caprice waking up in the St. Louis Jail, going by one of his alias names, he befriends a fellow cellmate, calls home to Southville, and is released to the custody of the first black police chief in Southville, IL.
If you want a fast-paced, easy read then pick it up, you won't be disappointed. I know I wasn't.
Thanks to NetGalley and Author Guide for my digital copy for an honest review.
I don't know where to begin in my review of this exceptional book. Elliott is a complex character who has been kicked on the gut by life at several points but manages to be a mostly good guy. In a time when the world and country are unkind and uncaring, he is able to still make his way. There are many different characters that are his friends and family that see him for what he is not for his race. He has a difficult task before him with multiple sources of danger but he navigates his way through. Excellent world building and character development that pull in the reader and continue to sadden and surprise throughout the book. Superlative writing that deserves to be read.
A Negro and an Ofay, on the surface, is a crime novel. Elliot Caprice has been to college, been to war, been a Chicago cop and been on the run. By the time we catch up to him, he’s run out of places to run, and he’s contemplating what happens next, which leads him into a case involving the missing driver of a recently-rich woman. Underneath, Gardner’s book is about family, the one you have and the one you make. It’s about going home again, and making amends. It’s about learning who you are after a long search.