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by Ace Atkins
St. Martins, February 2000
304 pages
ISBN: 0312971923

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

They say that, before you can play the blues, before you can even truly understand the blues, you have to have *lived* the blues. Lived a life of poverty, hardship, injustice and intolerance, the kind of life lived by African-Americans in the Mississipi delta in the 1930's, the kind of life lived by Robert Johnson, the man who many consider to be the greatest blues guitarist of all time. Robert Johnson died in the late 1930's and the circumstances of his death, and even his burial location, are as big a mystery today as they were 60 years ago.

This real life mystery is the basis for Ace Atkins' first mystery novel, Crossroad Blues, which moves between modern day New Orleans and the Mississipi delta. Nick Travers is a blues historian and ex-football star and when a colleague goes missing whilst researching in the delta then Nick sets out to find him. Bodies start accumulating, Nick is briefly accused of murder and the plot builds to a climax involving a hostage and the legendary lost recordings of Johnson. The plot is a bit improbable and needs some suspension of disbelief but it moves along nicely and the characters are mostly enjoyable with the exception (for me) of Nicks too perfect love interest, a tall, gorgeous, blues guitar playing redhead, who throws herself at him in a Mississipi Juke joint.

It's the blues that make this book different and a bit special, Atkins knows his stuff and lots of fascinating blues anecdotes are blended into the action. There's a wonderful theme in the plot that pits the purity of true Blues, in the form of Johnson and his good guy advocates, against early Rock and Roll in the form of Elvis, or more specifically an evil villain who's an Elvis look alike and worships the King as if he were a god. It's a lot of fun with a touch of melodrama and there's some great one-liners as well that had me laughing out loud at times.

Crossroad Blues isn't a perfect first novel, there are some plot and character inconsistencies that might annoy someone who has little interest in the subject matter, but for me this was a 'go with the flow' book and I really enjoyed it. If you have an interest in the blues, or if you're looking for something a little bit different, then put a Robert Johnson record (the scratchier the better) on the ol' gramophone for atmosphere, settle back and enjoy some Crossroad Blues.

Ace Atkins has a web site at http://www.aceatkins.com/

Reviewed by Paul Richmond, November 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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