23 Shades of Black; a Filomena Buscarsela Mystery

By Kenneth Wishnia

Fil Buscarsela is a tough, ambitious Ecuadorian immigrant passionate about making the world a more just place to live in. That leads her to join the New York Police Department (NYPD) in the 1980s.
If losing her parents, having her older brother killed by an Ecuadorian military junta, immigrating to the United States and becoming a citizen hadn’t been hard enough, being a woman patrol cop in the NYPD may kill her.
Her partner is “a beef-brained cabeza de chorlito so cerebrally challenged he couldn’t pick his own nose without the aid of an instruction manual and a detailed map.”
Her colleagues don’t back her up on the street, and the lieutenant who supervises her is always scratching away at the points she earns toward a transfer to the Detective Bureau.
After rescuing an unconscious black woman from a toxic leak at a food stamp center, Fil keeps asking questions, interviewing witnesses and chewing on the whys, hows and whos of the case even when it’s handed over to the Detective Bureau. Then, when a key witness turns up dead in a violent and improbable construction accident, Fil suspects a connection.
This novel, which takes place in the East Village in the 1980s, juxtaposes the crime on the street and in the glass towers of multi-national corporations with the treatment that Fil receives within her own department. She’s better educated than most of her colleagues, works much harder than they do and yet is treated with corrosive disrespect.
As the demands of the job and her own ambition mount, Fil’s personal life starts to cave in.
This is a tightly written book that builds with tension as Fil searches for answers. While the novel crafts a sociological portrait of the police department and the lives of working Latina women, it never sacrifices plot or the primary characters to preachiness.
The other books in this series are:
  • Soft Money (March 2013). Burned out and no longer a cop, Fil takes on a new role as a mother raising a child alone. When the owner of her neighborhood bodega is murdered, she begins an investigation at the request of the victim’s grieving sister. Secretly partnered with a rookie cop, she hits the streets to find the trigger-happy punks who ended an innocent life.
  • Glass Factory (August 2013) After her experiences in the city, Fil heads for suburbia, Long Island to be exact. But when she discovers that a high-tech firm is spewing poisons into the island’s water supply, she’s certain that the corporation she fought in 23 Shades of Black may be behind this polluter, too. She must juggle the dangers of her investigation with the demands of raising her three-year-old daughter and new romance.
  • The Red House (March 2014), Fil apprentices herself to a New York City private investigation firm to get the three years’ experience needed to get her own private investigator license. She’s drawn to the sticky neighborhood pro bono cases rather than the big bucks clients her bosses prefer. She’s also raising a daughter as a single mother.
  • Blood Lake (August 2014) Fil, now a private investigator in New York, takes her teenaged daughter Antonia to see extended family in Ecuador. Before she’s even had a chance to adjust to being back, the priest who saved her life and helped escape tot he United States years ago, is murdered.  She steps in to find his killer and repay the debt of gratitude she owes the priest.

The Author: Kenneth Wishnia

Kenneth Wishnia was born into a Jewish family of globe-trotting academics who were avid mystery readers and political activists. He caught the bug for writing in the second grade and received encouragement from his teachers.
He earned a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a Ph.D. in comparative literature from SUNY Stony Brook.  He teaches writing, literature and other things at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood, Long Island.
He married a Catholic woman from Ecuador and wrote the first draft of 23 Shades of Black in Ecuador on a typewriter. The novel was rejected for nine years by agents and editors before he self-published the book.  It was nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award and the Anthony Award.
In the process of learning more about his wife’s religion, Wishnia discovered how little he knew of his own. His research into Judaism and Jewish history led to his writing The Fifth Servant, a Jewish-themed historical novel set in  Prague in the late 16th century. That book was named one of the “Best Jewish Books of 2010” by the Association of Jewish Libraries and was a finalist for the Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery Award.  It won a Premio Letterario ADEI-WIZO, an Italian Jewish literary award.


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