Not many adult American read fiction these days, and that includes Christians of all varieties. The Washington Post reported on a study recently that says people who read fiction are more empathetic than those who do not. Buffer explored the same study and found nine benefits in reading fiction, of which increased empathy was only one.
Little Boy Lost by J.D. Trafford may go a step further. It’s a mystery novel, and specifically a legal mystery novel. The hero is a lawyer in St. Louis who has a struggling practice, despite his being a member of one of the city’s powerful political families. Justin Glass’s father is a congressman; his older brother is a state senator. Justin is another kind of man, however; he cares about the people of his city, and he represents all comers, including those who can’t afford to pay, which is most of his client base.
Justin lives with his daughter Sammy in a carriage house of a home owned by his grandfather. His mother lives in the house. The grandfather and the mother are white. Justin’s father is black. The reader knows going into the story that a major theme will be race, relationships with police, political power structures, and the poor who are too often caught in a system they can’t, and sometimes won’t, escape.
A little girl shows up with a jar of change and asks Justin to find her missing teenaged brother. There’s nothing new in a missing inner-city kid; it happens so much that it’s an accepted part of “the system.” But Justin decides to accept the request. He checks with his contacts at the police department. He starts reading files. And then the boy’s body is found in a county park’ along with the bodies of eight other boys, their hands in plastic hand ties behind their backs.
Suspicions center on a parole officer who happens to be a white supremacist and neo-Confederate. The news about the suspect goes public, and the city erupts in protest and violence. And if that had been the basic story, Trafford would have drawn just another race relations cartoon stereotype. But stereotypes are not where this story goes.
Instead, we see race through Justin’s biracial eyes. There’s no question he considers himself a black man, but he doesn’t look at life, how own or that of others, in black and white or even shades of gray. Instead, he looks at life in terms of people, and he sees people who have value and people who matter, no matter their race, income and education level, or arrest record.
Trafford is the author of three legal mystery novels, No Time to Die, No Time to Run, and No Time to Hide. Graduated with honors in law, he’s been a civil and criminal prosecutor, worked at a large national law firm, and as a non-profit attorney. He’s lived in Washington, D.C. and St. Louis, and currently lives in the Midwest. He knows his St. Louis; this story is so well anchored in St. Louis streets, neighborhoods, landmarks, and people that it could almost serve as a reality tour guide.
Little Boy Lost is indeed a mystery story, but it’s far more than that. It’s a story of a city, a story about race, and a story that reaches for understanding in a way that newspaper articles and editorials never could. And it stands as a good reminder about why it’s important to read fiction.
Photograph of downtown St. Louis from the Arch by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash. Used with permission.