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by Deborah Grabien
St Martin's Minotaur, July 2008
288 pages
ISBN: 0312379994

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I love "behind-the-scenes" stuff. When I was involved in theater, I had fun working with props, costumes, staging. When I worked on Star Trek and science fiction conventions, I worked on security and "C & C", solving problems. I used to usher at concerts and theaters.

Deborah Grabien knows all too well how this works. And while I read the first couple books in her haunted ballad series (and I can sing all 835 verses of Matty Groves, wanna hear?) the series lost its punch for me. But ROCK AND ROLL NEVER FORGETS promised to be just the sort of book that grabs me.

Grabien is a musician and she was deeply involved in the San Francisco music scene for years. I'm too old for groupie-hood and always was, but this way into the scene is really cool.

The band Blacklight has been around for a long time and they're still huge, playing all the biggest arenas in the biggest cities in the US and the UK. JP, their guitarist, has settled in San Francisco with Bree, the woman he met a long time ago at a concert. JP was, and is, married to Cilla, who almost gives groupies a bad name. She's ambitious and while arguably she's ambitious for her husband, it ends up bringing her no joy. All that matters is that he be recognized as the greatest guitarist in the great rock band, and that she live within that reflected glory. These are pretty superficial goals and as it turns out, sex, drugs, and rock and roll are not all that Kinkaid wants from life.

When sleazo journalist Perry Dillon wangles an interview with Kinkaid as part of a tell-all book about Blacklight, JP sits down for an hour with him. Dillon ends up dead a few days later - in JP's dressing room at a huge concert. It's clear JP did not kill Dillon, but suspicion settles on Bree for a while. Given that she is fiercely protective of her privacy and of JP, it's not out of the realm of possibility that she could have committed the crime, but it's clear she did not. But Bree, who up to now refused to tour with the band, now insists that she come with JP and go on tour. JP's thrilled and doesn't see anything odd about the request.

While I go back and forth about how much I like ROCK AND ROLL NEVER FORGETS, I admire lots of what the author did. Her characters surprise you. Kinkaid is most importantly a serious guitarist and secondly a rock star. But he is indeed a star and admits that he's been spoiled by his life. Everything he wants, he can get. So his dawning self-awareness is plausible but it would be far more plausible if we were told that Bree and JP had been together five or even ten years. Instead, we learn they've been a couple for 25 years. A couple who's been together for 25 years, even when one of the couple travels a lot, will know a great deal about each other simply as a result of living together. It's hard to believe that the secrets that Bree, JP and others keep from each other would still be secret.

This story would have worked better if the couple were younger. Bree is described by many people as having too much of a "Joan of Arc" complex which might work if she were an starry-eyed 17 year old, but as a woman in her 40s, even if she is obsessed with stylish shoes and vintage velvet dresses, her desire to fix everything, to feel responsible for everyone and to risk everything in that regard tends to ring a bit false.

The author guaranteed my interest in this first of a projected six book series by creating in JP Kinkaid, a character with a huge problem. JP has MS, multiple sclerosis. Grabien's stunningly authentic picture of Kinkaid's coping mechanisms come from personal experience as she herself has MS. This part of the story is at times a tiny bit expository, but JP has a believable voice and he makes you understand the huge role that MS plays in his life. I know a lot about MS for a layman, and I learned a great deal more from this story.

A final minor request. I think Grabien's done a damn good job of creating a voice for JP Kinkaid, the British rocker who lives in America. Could we just cut back on the "gobsmacked" a bit? JP uses the term often (okay, maybe he only used it twice but one "gobsmacked" is the equivalent of 18 "you knows" to a sensitive reader.) Other than these quibbles, many of which I think Grabien will answer in the next book, I'm quite taken with this new series.

Reviewed by Andi Shechter, October 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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