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Bland, Eleanor Taylor

BLAND, Eleanor Taylor

Born 31 December 1944, Boston

Daughter of Leroy and Mildred Gershefski Taylor; married (divorced); Children: Kevin, Todd, two grandchildren

Mystery writer Eleanor Taylor Bland is the author of a series of novels featuring the reported first African-American female police detective, Marti MacAlister. Bland's works not only include the gritty detective work of her main character, but they also detail the personal life of this working woman and the problems she faces as trying to operate effectively in a traditionally male profession. Each of the novels delves into the dark secrets that lead to the murders of seemingly ordinary members of the community. They are filled with social comment and a grim look at the reality of the modern-day suburban/urban crime scene.

Bland began her writing career after an early marriage at age fourteen to a sailor, rearing two children, and working various jobs with disabled and abused children. In 1972, after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she pursued a college degree, which she completed in accounting and education. It was also at this time that she became determined to publish a book.

The character of streetwise MacAlister was introduced in Dead Time (1992) as a recently widowed South Side Chicago police officer who moves with her children to suburban Lincoln Prairie, Illinois, and becomes a member of this small community's police detective force. Investigating the mysterious flophouse murders of a wealthy, schizophrenic woman and a pair of potential witnesses leads her in search of some abandoned children who also saw the woman's murder. The tense relationship of MacAlister with her white male partner and the plight of children in peril and the mentally ill are revealed by Bland in what critics called a "detached and often flat manner" and with "sensitivity and humor."

Bland's next work Slow Burn (1993), continues the life of MacAlister with another social commentary surrounding the death of two medical workers killed in a clinic fire connected to a child pornography scheme. Issues of sexism, racism, and the ill treatment of children again are interlaced in the plot. This work was hailed for its strong and engaging character development, on the one hand, but panned for "overshadowing" the story with social issues.

Gone Quiet (1994) and Done Wrong (1995) reveal the more personal side of MacAlister's sleuthing. In the first, she deals with the complexities of a scandal in a community held together by religion when she helps an old friend unravel the mysterious death of a Baptist deacon who is secretly a pedophile. The second novel finds MacAlister engaged in investigating the real circumstances and secrets surrounding the apparent suicide of her late Chicago police narcotics squad husband. Both works also explore the personal side of the main character's life as she interacts with her children, her family, her friends, and the community and as she comes to grip with her loneliness as a widow. Critics found Bland's writing low key and understated, but with keen insight and plenty of action. All of them agreed that the Marti MacAlister character was the cornerstone for all of Bland's works.

Two unrelated murder cases are linked together by another older case concerning the disappearance of a young abused girl in Keep Still (1996). This time Bland explores the evil that exists in a dysfunctional family as she exposes the realities of child abuse. Again the main character, Marti MacAlister, fascinates readers with her ability to seek justice and not lose her own humanity as she juggles her work with her personal relationships with her children and her new boyfriend.

Called by Booklist's Stuart W. Miller "her most sophisticated, complex and successful work yet," See No Evil (1998) finds a psychopathic killer visiting the MacAlisters' household and plotting to murder the entire family. At the same time, Marti and her partner struggle to solve the case of a young drug-addicted and abused girl's murder, with Marti unaware of her family's peril because of worrying about protecting her children and educating them about the real world. The counterpoints of the subplots of this novel heighten the suspense for the reader and established Bland as "one of today's most talented mystery writers."

In Tell No Tales (1999), Marti finds herself newly married and in a new home. Her honeymoon is abruptly ended by the discovery of the dead body of an African-American woman who seems to have lost her life in the 1960s and the murder of a recluse in the basement of a building owned by his family. Marti and her partner, Vic, struggle with their own personal problems but eventually find a connection between the two murders. The complexity of the plot keeps the reader enthralled.

In an article in the Chicago magazine, Bland said, "I want to write about things that matter." She also stated, "…if you no longer look at the world exactly the way you looked at it before you read my book, that's good enough." As the life of Marti MacAlister continues to unfold, Bland achieves these goals. Her mysteries with a social conscience are engaging and enlightening.

Bibliography:

Reference Works:

CA 166.

Other reference:

Chicago (Feb. 1999). Booklist (1 June 1994, 1 June 1995, July 1996, 15 Dec. 1997, 1 Jan. 1999). Cogdill, O. H., "A Biography of Eleanor Taylor Bland," in Sun-Sentinel South Florida (8 Apr. 1998, www.sun-sentinel.com/freetime/mysteries/blandbio.htm, accessed April 7, 1998). LJ (Jan. 1998, Jan. 1999). PW (3 Feb. 1992, 14 June 1993, 13 June 1994, 15 May 1995, 27 May 1996, 22 Dec. 1997).

—PAULA C. MURPHY

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