BLACK MARKET consists of several linked stories that take place during World War II. They are set in motion by an investigation into the ownership of an Italian painting recently inherited by a poor black woman from her father, Jimmy Holt. Harry Leblanc, an expert in establishing provenance, appears at the novel’s opening. He is given the task of establishing that the painting belongs legally to its new owner and that it can be sold without others claiming it.
Leblanc’s investigation is interspersed into the larger narrative, which explains how the painting came to be in Holt’s hands. The opening scenes with Leblanc establish that Holt served in Rome during World War II. The following chapters describe his service with a black unit. The progress of Leblanc’s investigations parallels the narrative of Holt’s army activities.
Holt actually is a minor character in the World War II story lines, adding an element of suspense to the novel. Because of the novel’s structure, the reader knows that Holt will get the painting but is left wondering how until the book’s conclusion. Along the way, plot lines develop around a black market operation in Holt’s unit in which he is forced to participate, a romance between one of Holt’s comrades and an Italian girl, an Italian family that is forced to rent its palace to Holt’s superior officer, and hostilities between Holt’s unit and a group of South African soldiers. The plot lines mix smoothly, with the narrative switching gracefully from one to another. The intermingled stories establish a rich account full of multidimensional characters. Many of the plot lines emphasize that the Axis powers were not the only enemy to be faced during the war and show the personal, human aspects of being a soldier that are related very little to actual combat.