Score: 93/100 (9.3 out of 10)
“I Saw What I Saw” by Tony Garritano is “The Hate U Give” meets Scooby Doo! We're not kidding. You read that right.
This book subverts expectations, but in a much more satisfying way than Rian Johnson would. We have to admit, our initial reaction to this book was borderline cringe as it takes very timely, relevant, and serious issues like police brutality and racial discrimination (not joking matters at all) and mends it with the murder-mystery genre. However, we were relieved when this story picks up and is presented with great tact, presenting the various sides of these issues in very nuanced ways. This isn't a one-sided hit piece, which was a huge relief. This isn't a story about police in shining armor hunting a murderous person of color. Meanwhile, this isn't a story about the evil, bloodthirsty, racist killer cops preying on minorities. This is a complex story about a potential murder-for-hire conspiracy that unravels before our eyes in fantastical fashion.
Is it too soon to present stories like this in a lighthearted way? It really depends on how you personally choose to look at it. For one, things aren't exactly what they seem, and the racially-charged angle does not loom as heavy on this story as it could've. It's not completely forgotten or ignored either, even prompting the best quote in the book made by the Black neighbor, Reggie:
“It shouldn’t be a choice of do we want law and order or do we want social justice... Why can’t we want both? Why can’t we get both? Don’t we deserve both? We should empower good police officers and expect that they will protect us. But at the same time, we should recognize the systemic racism that still exists in our country and fight to end it.”
The main character, Sheila, is a journalist who has turned to independent investigative journalism. In other words, she is a piece of the same independent journalism that revealed some of the recent racially-charged crimes to the public. She is part of the growing movement of private, online journalism that has dared to look deeper and further than the mainstream media, with its thinly-veiled agendas on both sides of the socio-political spectrum. It can be argued that the mainstream media has lost its objectivity and will choose to air one side of the story and ignore others. Independent journalists like the protagonist of this novel—armed only with their smartphones, laptops, and intuitions—provide us with opportunities for a different perspective.
Sheila begins the story having an almost naive, childlike perspective on things despite apparently having been a somewhat accomplished journalist. She identifies herself as mature, independent, and capable despite being a mamma's girl, being heavily reliant on her best friend for affirmation, and clearly not having everything together, very often making bone-headed mistakes like running into her neighbor's car. She suffers from an inherent clumsiness that her neighbor-turned-love-interest, Reggie, finds cute. We can almost imagine her being played by Melissa McCarthy or Rebel Wilson because that's the kind of vibes she gives off.
Her role as a journalist makes her the perfect witness to a crime apparently involving two police officers who murder a Black man named Arthur in a way eerily similar to Derek Chauvin and George Floyd. The murder is almost identical, however this time there may be more to it than meets the eye. Over time, Sheila must wrestle with the possibility that what she saw was not all that was. The police officers who committed the crime end up being unidentifiable, it is wrongfully determined that Arthur was the victim of a simple “mugging,” and wrinkles such as the reactions of the victim's mother, business partner, and wife to his death make Sheila and her associates question what is true.
What's amazing is just how funny and comedic this book is. Most of this book consists of shenanigans—bordering on Tom & Jerry/Wile E. Cayote/Bugs Bunny/Three Stooges slapstick shenanigans. Sheila (the protagonist), Tania (her spiritual sister/BFF), Reggie (her hot Black neighbor), and other characters get wound up in a bunch of humorous situations including going undercover as prostitutes (“The Hearts”) and arguing about such things as who the best superhero is. Like the crew of Scooby Doo, the characters are all distinct and play off of one another, making this a surprisingly diverse cast of characters even compared to the fantasy novels we've read. Reggie, a former theater actor and love-interest of Sheila, turns out to be one of the most interesting characters we've read about in a while.
The mystery, intrigue, and slapstick humor in this book really carries it. We couldn't wait to solve this mystery!
Check out “I Saw What I Saw” on Amazon!