A Novel That’s Part Noir Mystery, Part Love Letter to Bedford-Stuyvesant | Modern Society of USA

A Novel That’s Part Noir Mystery, Part Love Letter to Bedford-Stuyvesant

A Novel That’s Part Noir Mystery, Part Love Letter to Bedford-Stuyvesant

By Wil Medearis
336 pp. Hanover Square. $26.99.

Reddick — an artist-turned-art handler — loathes the privileged white people moving into his beloved Bedford-Stuyvesant; the problem is, he’s one of them.

At the start of Wil Medearis’s noirish debut novel, “Restoration Heights,” the author declares that we “know Reddick,” because he’s “that white guy on the subway,” totally unremarkable because of his ubiquity. Reddick is surviving but not thriving in Bed-Stuy. He’s guilty about the part he’s played in the neighborhood’s gentrification, having moved there from the South a decade earlier. However, when Reddick is asked to look into the disappearance of a young woman, he banks on the privilege his appearance affords him to gain access and trust, to cross boundaries and invade the privacy of various suspects.

In his day job, Reddick regularly enters the homes of elite New Yorkers to hang their extravagant art. The missing woman, Hannah, is engaged to the heir to the Seward fortune. Reddick happens to be the last person who saw Hannah — in Bed-Stuy in front of his building late one night, “tapping at her phone, coiled on the hood of a dark sedan,” obviously drunk. The Sewards assure Reddick that Hannah would never be in a neighborhood like that, but he’s certain that he saw her, and that she is in serious trouble. It’s not clear why the Sewards won’t call the police about Hannah’s disappearance, nor why the matriarch of another obscenely wealthy family hires Reddick to find her.


Reddick soon connects Hannah to Restoration Heights, the abandoned half-built condominium towers near his apartment, as they would be the perfect place to hide a body. They’re also the boldest example of the gentrification that Reddick despises, designed and constructed for “the white kids” who want “all the cachet of the neighborhood and none of the hassles. The guilty thrill of being surrounded by blackness without having to live like them. Not separate but unequal.” As the mystery unfolds, Reddick must confront the nuances of gentrification as he considers the perspectives of the longtime residents, the developers and even the young newcomers.

[ Read: Four books grapple with the politics of gentrification. ]

Reddick is comfortable in different environments (an asset for an investigator). He chats with billionaires about the art he’s hanging; he plays basketball at the Bed-Stuy Y.M.C.A.; he debates identity politics with his artist friends in their studios. Attuned to power dynamics, Reddick lets intuition guide his investigation. But does he even have the right to look for the missing woman? “You are not a cop. You are not even a private investigator. You cannot do this,” one friend warns him.

The mystery itself is a little convoluted. Reddick makes some dubious assumptions about the suspects. The narrative slows when Medearis explains the plodding deal-making of real estate development, which is not as compelling as the lively tension between his characters. And strangely, the missing fiancée is also missing from the story, since Reddick doesn’t seem particularly interested in learning more about her. Instead, he becomes obsessed with Restoration Heights and the corporations cashing in on the neighborhood that he loves. His career and relationships suffer and his circumstances become even more dire.

The innovative sections of this novel all deal with Reddick’s art background. Art becomes a method to see and unravel the mystery, and Reddick is not only figuring out what happened, he’s making something new. I wished Medearis had embraced this aspect more, or at least the seedier thrills of noir. Solving a puzzle is pleasurable, even a grim one.

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