cover image Leavin Trunk Blues

Leavin Trunk Blues

Ace Atkins. Minotaur Books, $22.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-312-24212-1

Nick Travers has it all: enough money left from his days as a professional football player to live in a converted New Orleans warehouse and a job--teaching the history of the blues at Tulane--that lets him sit in atmospheric bars like JoJo's (a ""darkened cave of happiness"") listening to his favorite music and occasionally blowing a few riffs on his harmonica. But the comfortable life doesn't satisfy Nick. His first outing as a sleuth (Crossroad Blues), which took him to the Mississippi Delta in search of some lost records by legendary guitar player Robert Johnson, caused Nick considerable emotional pain. This second blues-related mystery is even darker, sadder and much colder--moving Nick to Chicago in December, to the once-vibrant blues scene on the South Side, now mostly a graveyard haunted by dead or forgotten talents. One of these ghosts is Ruby Walker, the ""Sweet Black Angel"" whose songs about leaving the country for the city sold lots of records for the King Snake label. But Ruby has been sitting in prison for 40 years, convicted of killing her lover--King Snake founder Billy Lyons--and dumping his body in Lake Michigan. Now she wants Nick to help her prove her innocence. Pursued by a demonic killer known as Stagger Lee and his team of deadly hookers, Nick suffers almost more pain than the book's short length can bear. What constantly redeems it is Atkins's ability to bring his hero to full, rich life in the bleakest of settings--and the author's rampantly contagious love for the blues and the musicians who created it. (July)