A talented African-American saxophonist moves from Boston to Harlem to study with the jazz master he idolizes in Mansbach's first novel, a passionate debut that succeeds despite an abundance of plot clichés. Latif Pearson, the young protagonist, gets hooked on the sounds of Albert Van Horn; after years of building his chops, 19-year-old Latif gets up the nerve to make the move to New York, where he spends his nights watching Van Horn play from the sidelines. The dark side of Latif's debut comes when he takes a job running drugs for the local dealer, but he is able to make it work as he adds a relationship to the mix, falling in love with a beautiful white painter named Mona. The ambitious, precocious Latif idolizes Van Horn, but when the older musician finally invites him to some private jam sessions and then onstage, Latif puts so much pressure on himself that he implodes and succumbs to the lures of heroin. Mansbach gets past the hoary plot clichés with some strong characterizations, although his prose waxes purple when he writes about the music and Latif's street life: 'The horn dipped and bobbed above the amniotic ocean... vanishing inside the grave of Icarus only to reanimate ichthyoid." Setting aside these flaws, both hardcore and would-be jazz fans will find plenty of meat on the bones of Mansbach's debut; with a more innovative plot, it might have been a truly memorable book. Agent, Richard R. Abate. (Mar.)
Forecast:Though a bit dated in theme and likely to appeal mostly to New York readers, this promising novel augurs well for Mansbach's future.