Liz’s Book Report: The Ballad of Black Tom


ATMOSfx! Woo!

★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Written by Victor LaValle

“People who move to New York always make the same mistake. They come looking for magic…and nothing will convince them it isn’t here.”

If your TBR pile is starting to fall in on you, or you need something quick and creepy to get you ready for the Halloween season, or if you just need to take a break from watching horror movies (hey, it happens) then have I got a book for you!

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle is a slim and creepy Shirley Jackson award winning novella about Charles Thomas Tester, “Tommy”, a small time hustler trying to make ends meet and keep a roof over his father’s head, who is hired to deliver an occult tome to a reclusive woman known as Ma Att up in Queens.

After the delivery Tommy heads to Brooklyn ready to play the numbers with his pay and armed with his ever present guitar. He’s not a musician- he only knows three songs- but when a mysterious gentleman named Robert Suydam hears him singing and picking at his guitar on the street, he hires Tommy (and agrees to pay him a large sum of money) to perform at a party at his mansion. When Tommy arrives at the mansion (and speaks the strange phrase required for entry) Suydam offers to share the “secret wisdom” with Tommy, recognizing him, as someone who “understood illusion” to wake the “King who sleeps at the bottom of the ocean”.

Thus begins a story that spans Jazz Age New York City from Queens, to Harlem, to Brooklyn; inside the meeting rooms of the mysterious Victoria Society and Old Ones worshiping occult circles. Though set in the 1920’s, The Ballad of Black Tom addresses issues that are relevant today, racism and police brutality most notably, while weaving a tight and very Lovecraftian tale.

The audio book of The Ballad of Black Tom is expertly performed by Kevin R. Fee and is only 3 hours long. So if you have some time to listen but not necessarily read, I highly recommend this medium.

The Ballad of Black Tom in all formats can be purchased here.

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Tor.com
  • ISBN-10: 9780765387868
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