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CROSSROAD BLUES
By Ace Atkins

St. Martin's Press, 1998 (HC) $21.95 SMP, February, 2000 (pbk)

Reviewed by Rick McMahan

Blues music is chock-full of the mean streets that Chandler spoke of: Muddy Waters pleads about doing time in "Baby Please Don't Go," Howlin' Wolf moans about a murderous woman in "Commits a Crime," Stevie Ray Vaughan describes the harsh streets in "Tin Pan Alley" both with his voice and great guitar licks. These are just three examples I pulled off of the top of my head, but there are many more hardboiled and noir sounds of mysteries, intrigue and misdeeds in blues music.

When filmmakers adapted HEAVEN'S PRISONERS (James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux mystery), they also put together one of the greatest blues soundtracks to date. Blues is the music of mystery, at least that's the way I feel about it. And so does Ace Atkins.

Ace Atkins's niche in the mystery genre is Nick Travers, blues historian at Tulane University.

CROSSROAD BLUES was the debut of Nick Travers. It's quite appropriate that Nick Travers first mystery should revolve around Robert Johnson, the one bluesman surrounded with mystery. Robert Johnson left little over two dozen songs recorded, yet his music influenced such great musicians as The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. And still little is known about the life and death of Robert Johnson. Rumors abound that he was killed by a jealous husband or poisoned by a spurned lover. Of course there's the belief that Scratch, better known as Satan, took Johnson, the payment the guitarist claimed to have made for his musical talents.

In CROSSROAD BLUES, one of Nick Travers's colleagues has disappeared in the Mississippi Delta, and there's a tantalizing clue that the man disappeared while on the trail of the mystery Robert Johnson. Nick Travers travels in search of his friend and the lost songs of the blues great.

Other books by this author include: LEAVIN' TRUNK BLUES.


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