cover image Crossroad Blues

Crossroad Blues

Ace Atkins. Thomas Dunne Books, $21.95 (226pp) ISBN 978-0-312-19254-9

The legendary blues guitarist Robert Johnson has been used for fictional purposes before (e.g., in Walter Mosley's RL's Dream), but Florida journalist Atkins takes full, fresh advantage of Johnson's life, music and strange death in his first mystery. Despite the weight of two overused genre staples (the New Orleans setting and an ex-sports star as hero), this lively debut sparks hope for an ongoing series. It wasn't an injury that turned Nick Travers, who played for the New Orleans Saints, into a part-time detective and full-time expert on the blues. ""Nick had been thrown out of the NFL for kicking his coach's ass during a Monday Night Football game,"" the third-person narrator tell us. Now he teaches the occasional blues history class at Tulane, works on his biography of Guitar Slim and plays his harmonica at JoJo's Blues Bar--a place so deftly described that it should be real even if it isn't. When a Tulane colleague disappears on a quest for a hitherto unknown Johnson recording in the Mississippi Delta town of Greenwood, Travers goes to look for him--and walks into a murderous mess of colorful sociopaths. Among them are a deadly teenage Elvis lookalike and a slimy record producer who not only orchestrates violent crimes but, worse, dares to use the blues as a marketing ploy. This tale's a pleasure for both mystery and RL fans. (Oct.)