Danielle Arceneaux: Glory Be

Glory Broussard #1

Great books are like a song.  They have a melody and a rhythm all their own, and envelop you in their reality.  Danielle Arceneaux’s debut novel, Glory Be, might be Patti LaBelle’s You Are My Friend. Glory, the heroine of the novel, is an older, heavier black woman living in LaFayette, Louisiana.  She’s a divorcee and fills her time with church, the local Red Hat Society, and heading to the coffee shop Sunday afternoons to run her business – she’s a bookie.  Her life is in chaos, and it’s not made any better when her best friend, Amity, is found dead, an apparent suicide.  Like many a mystery heroine before her, Glory is certain Amity’s death is not a suicide, and begins trying to prove it.

Glory is a bit of an outcast in town for various reasons.  Her house has been condemned by the city – she’s a bit of a hoarder – and the Red Hat ladies want nothing to do with her after a poor catering decision on her part.  Luckily, Glory’s daughter Delphine has come home from New York, on the run herself from a failing marriage. She’s on leave from her law firm and she throws herself, first of all, into clearing Glory’s home of the accumulations of things.  Together, the two of them start to look into Amity’s murder themselves, despite the local police chief (and high school beau of Delphine’s) telling them to knock it off or they’ll get themselves in trouble.

They surely do get in trouble, running down various leads that involve fentanyl, dog fights, bees, and a slashed tire.  Glory is finding some power within herself, though, to continue the investigation into the local chemical company that Amity (who was a nun) and the local priest had taken on.  She manages to find a solid, smoking gun trail of clues.

This is all pretty typical mystery stuff, even cozy mystery stuff.  What is not cozy are Arceneaux’s observations and lived experience of racism in the deep south.  It’s matter of fact and heartbreaking at the same time.  As Glory declares to Delphine early on, “…when it comes to black women getting hurt or disappearing, folks look the other way.  No one is working overtime for us. Damn, they ain’t doing their jobs at a basic level. And I’m tired of it. No one is coming to save us. If we want the truth, we’re going to have to go out and find it.”

Miraculously, the book is not a polemic.  It’s a lot of things.  It’s a great story, one of the more vivid first novels I’ve read, and the characters are flat out fantastic.  Glory herself is a three-dimensional miracle.  Arceneaux has a tight way with a phrase and a story – the book clocks in at just over 250 pages – and her observations hit you and stay with you.  Some of Glory’s revelations as she experiences the events in the book are moving, memorable and, dare I say, spiritual.  Please make her acquaintance.  You’ll be changing your reading life for the better. — Robin Agnew