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by Ace Atkins
St. Martins, October 2010
336 pages
ISBN: 0312977182

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Blues historian Nick Travers travels to Chicago to interview Ruby Walker, a 1950s blues singer who's been in prison for 40 years, convicted of a murder that she says she didn't commit. Nick has to investigate before Ruby will grant him the full interview that he desires.

Atkins' books are good versus evil confrontations with Nick Travers and pure Blues music as the good side. In Leavin' Trunk Blues the face of evil and enemy of the Blues is the legendary Stagger Lee, a shadowy character featured in the lyrics of literally hundreds of songs, and brought to life in the persona of a slum gang lord with links to Ruby's past. The line between good and evil is somewhat blurred in this book as Atkins explores the issues of Blues stars blending pure Blues with rock and rap, and the changing nature of the Blues as it becomes appealing to white middle class society (me I'm afraid) and loses it's roots.

Leavin' Trunk Blues is full of Blues history and anecdotes, and that's the aspect that gave me the most enjoyment. The mystery is average and disappears over-the-top occasionally, especially in the violent adrenaline charged ending. However, the focus is on the Blues and related symbolism, and a so-so plot didn't matter as much as it might in other books. The music is everything and characterization also plays second fiddle, or perhaps second harmonica in this case, although the often cartoonlike characters somehow fit the melodramatic and atmospheric nature of the plot. Will good triumph in the end? Will Ruby sing again? Will Nick win back his woman? Good fun soapy stuff, although the pacing is a bit uneven and the narrative drags occasionally.

Leavin' Trunk Blues is the second in a series that I'll continue to read - with a scratchy old Blues record on the stereo, and a shot of bourbon close to hand. Recommended for anybody who likes the Blues, or anybody prepared to try something a bit different.

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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