Monday, May 24, 2010

Alibi by Teri Woods (unabridged audio book read by Paula Jai Parker-Martin)

Author Teri Woods is one of the shining stars of modern urban fiction, also known as "street lit." She follows in the literary footsteps of such influential street-lit writers as Iceberg Slim, Donald Goines, Chester Himes, and Sister Souljah, while blazing a trail of her own by the sheer extent of her popularity.

Woods began by self-publishing her first novel, True to the Game, and selling copies out of her car trunk while working as a paralegal. Then she founded Teri Woods Publishing and further increased her readership while also allowing newer authors a home for their work.

Now she sees her debut on audiobook, Alibi, after signing with a major New York publisher, namely the vast Hachette conglomerate, hoping to further spread her vision via their wide distribution model. (Alibi is also Woods's debut in hardcover.) Paula Jai Parker-Martin (The Proud Family) performs the characters with such skill that she is practically invisible, allowing the writing to shine.

1986, North Philadelphia — Lance and Jeremy are a couple of low-rent dealers who think they've found their golden ticket: an open window at the apartment of drug lord Simon Schuller's runners. But things go wrong fast, and the only one to escape the scene alive is Nard, one of the runners.

Leaving three corpses behind, and unable to claim self-defense because of his other illegal activities, Nard needs an alibi and fast. His buddy Sticks, the guy that was supposed to be the lookout that night but didn't show up, feels guilty and sets Nard up with one from his girl, Daisy Mae Fothergill. Sticks will pay Daisy — a 22-year-old stripper and prostitute — $2,000 to say she was partying with Nard at her workplace, the Honey Dipper, all night long. Meanwhile, detective Tommy Delgado and his partner Merva Ross are hot on Nard's trail.

I went into Alibi expecting a straight crime novel, but what I got was something very different. This is raw writing with no apologies. Woods is not a prose stylist — she is unnecessarily repetitive and accents the obvious — but she can plot like nobody's business, and her characters are ultra-real.

Alibi is a prime example of the street-lit style of no-holds-barred writing with explicit language, sex, and violence slathered over an equally hard-core storyline. A real walk on the wild side, a gritty detailed portrait of the desperate and determined, where opportunities are few and the ones that pay well are nearly all illegal. But where a woman who sells her body numerous times daily just to make ends meet can still have fairy-tale dreams.

Woods puts her heroine through so many ordeals that Daisy eventually gets overwhelmed by it all and packs up and moves to see her family in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for some escape. But then Woods gives the crank another turn as an event that was memorable but seemed relatively minor blows up when the FBI gets involved.

Alibi is very creatively plotted. It is also completely absorbing, and I never guessed how things would turn out. It is much less a traditional crime novel than a character piece. (The flashback to Daisy's mother's history is a special highlight.) Luckily, Daisy is an interesting person (though a little dumb at times) and easy to care about since she retains her inner sweetness. The reader really wants things to turn out well for her, even as events seem to be almost conspiring against that possibility.

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