June 28, 2004 12:00 PM

By Nichelle D. Tramble

The greatest crime-mystery writers root their stories in specific urban milieus as vivid as any of their characters. With The Last King, Tramble proves that she is in line to become one of the greats, magnificently turning Oakland into “a way station for lost souls…the damaged hordes of lost boys roaming the city.”

Picking up where she left off with her debut The Dying Ground, Tramble sends her troubled hero Maceo Redfield back onto Oakland’s meanest streets, where his childhood friend, NBA All-Star Cornelius “Cotton” Knox, has become tangled up in the murder of a local call girl. Maceo haunts the city’s dark corners, coming up against present enemies and past ghosts. Though its athlete-in-trouble plot seems ripped from the headlines, King digs deep into the psyches of its characters and provides insights into the African-American community that go beyond current events. Tramble is a hell of a writer with an ear for the spoken word. And she can go hard-boiled with the best of them: Gems like “He mainlined failure straight to the vein” appear on every page. With The Last King, Tramble catapults to the upper echelon of crime noir.

MYSTERY

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