Can’t Stop The Funk by H. Max Hiller
Detective Cadillac Holland is the cop you call when the case that needs solved might not even be crime. It’s an election year and the local king of gentrification and out of town condominium developers threaten to bring disaster capitalism in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The ideas the Ninth Ward’s newest builders have about the future of the city’s most troubled neighborhood could once again displace the city’s poorest citizens, many of whom are still grappling with the storm’s economic aftermath. Detective Holland is asked to find the motive behind the offer to buy the homes being built by the Make It Right Foundation, and what he finds stirs the city’s treacherous political waters in ways nobody ever imagined possible.
Targeted Age Group:: 18+
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 3 – PG-13
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I witnessed the increase in the city's already troubling wealth divide after Hurricane Katrina and saw how the storm that brought the city together was gradually becoming a recovery that threatened to further divide it. I lacked the credentials to do a dry non-fiction book about this, so I built a fictional story around my observations and my research.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Many of the central characters are recurring ones from earlier in the series. Characters created exclusively for this book were all based on real people I had either met or found in the process of researching real estate development and disaster capitalism. A handful were created just to move the story along, and another handful will make additional appearances later in the series.
The Lower Ninth Ward has always been New Orleans' poorest and least racially diverse neighborhood. Prior to the storm, it was home to the marginally employed, and very poorly paid, faceless Black workers that keep the city's various service industries running.
The new home Miss J, Esther, and Lionel Batistes stay by on Deslonde Street is built like a fort against future storms. The thunderstorm I drove through to get to their house seemed determined to test the flood walls the Corps of Engineers insisted on patting itself on the back about. They rebuilt every section of flood wall Katrina breached within a year, and were proudly proclaiming they were 'just as good' as the ones that failed so spectacularly.
Lionel Batiste opened the door a crack when I knocked.
"Your aunt asked me to come talk to you about someone trying to buy your house." My explanation lessoned the scowl on Lionel's face.
"It's all good, let Cooter in," Esther shouted from behind him. "We don't keep the only good NOPD cop in the city standing in the rain."
"I work for the State Police, not NOPD." I explained to Lionel.
"That's supposed to be better?"
"Not really. I just want to be sure you hate me for all the right reasons."
"Cops a cop," Lionel muttered and let me past.
Esther Batiste pointed to the counter separating the dining room and kitchen. I took a seat on one of the tall stools while she rummaged around in a stack of papers next to the refrigerator.
"This is what they sent us." The contents of the large flat envelope weren't much help. Even the company's mission statement failed to explain their real purpose. CSA Holdings billed itself as a developer interested in building communities rather than just putting up houses. They were offering two hundred and sixty thousand dollars for this three bedroom house in a still largely decimated neighborhood. It was enough for the Batistes to move to a much nicer part of town, but far more than I could imagine the holding company could afford to pay and turn a profit.
"Can I borrow this? I need someone better at the business end of things to give me an opinion. It doesn't make any sense for someone to spend this much money to buy these houses." I started to place everything back into the envelope.
"You don't think they're worth that much?" Lionel had been waiting for a chance to pounce.
"I think these houses are worth far more than that to the people living in them. I also think that the same amount of money spent in a more recovered neighborhood would be a better investment, if they really want to develop communities." I wasn't about to get into an argument with either of them. I was here as a favor and didn't want to wind up making enemies I didn't need.
"I think offering to buy our house is just a way to rid of everyone down here once and for all," Esther hissed at the envelope in my hand. They never intended to sell.
"I'll look into this, but I gotta tell you that buying houses is not against the law. Paying too much for one definitely isn't."
"Maybe not," Esther said and nudged me towards the door. I could tell her legendary fury was beginning to boil over. "But what ought to be illegal ain't always a crime, neither."
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