Charles Thomas Tester is an only child, struggling in his early adulthood to put food on the table for his disabled father. With his mother gone, Charles is the only one left in the family with money-making skills. He takes up work by singing on street corners and performing with his terrible singing voice, choice of 3 song options, and under the name of Black Tom. Determined to get out of the life of singing for his supper, Black Tom intercepts a delivery of a mythical text and take it upon himself to deliver it. He’s careful to deliver all but the last page to the mysterious Ma Att. Almost immediately, Black Tom finds himself in a strange place. While playing in a mostly white neighborhood, he is approached by a wealthy gentleman named Robert Suydam. The man gives him a wad of cash to secure a promise that Tommy will play for his guests at a very large house in town. As soon as Robert leave, two local cops come and remove the money from Tommy, insisting he must have conned it from Robert. They tell Black Tom if they see him in the neighborhood again there will be trouble. Black Tom discusses the ordeal with his father, who lovingly teaches him the 4th song for his repertoire. The night before his gig, Black Tom returns to Robert’s home. He quickly discovers that Robert’s plans for Black Tom and other local people of color may be to use the disenfranchised for nefarious change, and Ma Att might be in on the scheme as well.
H.P. Lovecraft was a difficult fellow. While his works of horror are famous and his imagined creatures long lasting, he was not well known for being open to women and people of color. In Victor LaValle’s dedication of The Ballad of Black Tom, he makes sure to mention that it is dedicated to Lovecraft with “all my conflicted feelings.” It’s difficult not to be conflicted about the man, especially if you are a woman or person of color. Recently, the She Walks in Shadows collection gave women the chance to tell Lovecraftian horror in their own way. LaValle gives people of color a chance to do the same in his novella. The Ballad of Black Tom is atmospheric, creepy, and covers all the bases for a great horror tale. I found myself reading the book straight through without stopping. Trust me when I say, plan to start this book when you’ve got a long stretch of time without interruptions.
The Ballad of Black Tom is available from Tor Publishing February 16, 2015, just in time to fill in a broken heart.