When I read Nelson George’s The Plot Against Hip-Hop a few years back, I got hooked on his security specialist D Hunter. Brooklyn born, HIV positive, dressed in black, with the voice of a street poet, D protects the rich, famous, and usually African American in tight hard boiled stories that look at where art, culture, commerce, and politics meet. I was happy to see that not only was Akashic releasing a new D Hunter novel, The Lost Treasures of R&B, they are reprinting the hard to-to-get first book, The Accidental Hunter.
In The Accidental Hunter, D is trying to expand his business with an office in Manhattan, winning a bid from The Source Awards’ return to New York. He is also hired by Ivy Greenwich, a legendary and questionable manager, for two jobs. One is to deliver the ransom and bring back kidnapped R&B genius, Night, a close friend of D’s. The other job is to protect a teen sensation while she stays in New York to change her image, Christina Aguilera-style. Both jobs become connected to an urban biker club and the secrets and sins of those for whom D is working.
The book gives us a look a night life culture; both affluent and marginalized. We move through a big party where sports and music personalities mix with thugs, S&M practitioners, yuppies, high end strippers, and drug dealers. George portrays it as a colorful addictive world with a price to pay. As one who has traveled down the road tells D, “…watch this vampire shit. Do it too long and you’ll be sucking your own blood.”
D appears to have taken that advice in The Lost Treasures Of R&B. Downsizing his company and moving back to Brooklyn after the shift in the music industry, he takes on more the role of a protector of nightlife, rather than a member. Still, he finds himself more in trouble than ever. When a rapper tries to buy guns at an underground fight club, D ends up in the middle of a shootout. While dealing with the fall out from that, he is hired to protect Night for a comeback engagement in London and locate a rare recording of stars from Motown and Stax jamming together. George creates the greatest McGuffin since The Maltese Falcon.
In many ways The Lost Treasures of R&B is a thematic culmination of the previous two books. The series shows how subculture defines the art of our country, how it’s appropriated, and asks who should own it, it can be owned. Both The Accidental Hunter and The Lost Treasures of R&B have rich white girls wanting to be soul divas. They aren’t treated seriously, until they show their knowledge and chops. The Lost Treasures of R&B poses one of the defining musical questions of our time: should one culture be able to curate and own an art form if they are not the one to create it? George gives us no easy answers, but a dose of believable hope to the questions he raises.
D Hunter is a series character worth following. His voice gets richer and more nuanced and his adventures raise deeper discussions with each book, existing in a culture that has become more integrated into the mainstream, yet is increasingly defined by delineation. Both D and his world have interesting places to go.