Karen Grigsby Bates and Alex Powell, the snooping sister who drives the author’s lively mystery series, seem to have a lot in common. Both women are hardworking L.A. journalists (Bates is a National Public Radio correspondent; Alex writes for the imaginary Los Angeles Standard), and both have a low tolerance for stupidity. However, Bates (right), who cowrote the popular 1996 etiquette book Basic Black (Doubleday) with Karen Elyse Hudson, minds her manners, while Alex always finds herself in major trouble. We first met Miss Powell in 2001’s Plain Brown Wrapper (Avon), Bates’s scandalously wicked debut novel.

In Chosen People (Avon, $12.95), her latest mystery, “Simp” Hastings, author of “a gossipy tell-all about modern Negro society,” is bumped off practically under Alex’s nose. This leads her to dig through the skeletons in the closets of L.A.’s bougie set, where she discovers plenty of emotional and cultural baggage. “We often hear about the impact of racism,” says Bates, 50, the married mother of a 14-year-old son. “But when it comes to the pain that classism has caused within our community, there’s silence.”

The author promises there’ll be another Powell mystery, but for now, she’s at work on a novel that focuses on a world she was exposed to as a sixties child of Jack & Jill in New Haven, Connecticut. “There’s always been a Black middle class,” she says. “It’s time we discussed their lives in an enlightened way.”

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Photo Credit: Bruce W. Talamon