William Morrow, November 2021, $ 27.99

TV crime reporter Jordan Manning insinuates herself into a case involving a missing Black girl in As the Wicked Watch, the first in a new series from Emmy Award-winning TV host Tamron Hall.

Shaken by the discovery of teenager Masey James’ body in an abandoned lot and battling the authorities’ contention that Masey was just another tragic runaway, Jordan, a Black journalist who knows all too well the way race plays out in the media and with the police, is determined to find out who killed Masey. In doing so, As the Wicked Watch tackles the differences between the reporting of Black and white crimes, including those involving missing or murdered women of color.

Hall has obviously mined her own professional background for her depiction of her protagonist, who hails from her native Texas. But writing and producing news and magazine shows for television is a very different profession from constructing and writing a novel. “Show, don’t tell” is one of the mantras of solid storytelling. Someone needs to tell that to Hall, who keeps telling and telling…with little action. This book makes the reader privy to an inordinate number of phone calls (from Jordan’s family, the family of Masey James, police and forensic sources, and more) as a way to advance the case—but, there’s nothing exciting or immediate about a phone call. Similarly, Jordan offers up detailed resumes on all kinds of characters–including her gal pals, her best friend in Texas, and more–who don’t figure in the plot. We know they love and support Jordan, but what we really want is for the mystery to progress.

Where the book does succeed is in its depictions of Chicago, including Bronzeville–where the body is discovered—and the exciting details of the newsroom, which ring true. Serious mystery fans will be turned off by the book’s sometimes hectoring tone, though, and the reliance on elementary narrative techniques. Which is why, for now, fans of Tamron Hall might do well to stick to her TV show while she continues to hone her storytelling craft.

William Morrow
November 2021