November 8, 2014

The Blues is Dangerous

In Robert O. Greer’s first novel, THE DEVIL’S HATBAND, in his CJ Floyd series, the bounty hunting bail bondsman tangled with some maniacal environmentalists bent on destroying the cattle industry. In the second novel, THE DEVIL’S RED NICKEL, not only does Floyd face some bad guys hell bent on killing him, his beautiful, sexy client, who "looked every bit the part of an Ebony fashion-fair model..." at times gives him as much trouble as the bad guys. Her sexy beauty belies her real personality. For CJ she "was a black woman with money who was turning out be volatile, manipulative, and unpredictable."
At the Juneteenth Steering Committee meeting, Vernon Lowe, the part time chief morgue attendant at Denver General Hospital and full time undertaker in Five Points, Denver’s Black community, hands CJ one of CJ’s business cards that he found in the pockets of a man recently brought into the morgue. CJ has no idea who the man is or why he had his card.

Shortly after the meeting breaks up, the sexy beauty, Clothilde Polk, the dead man’s daughter approaches CJ. The dead man was LeRoy Polk. She hires CJ to find his killer and gives him the names of five people she believes might be responsible. The first is LeRoy’s ex-wife Mabel Pitts, who was like a mother to CJ, and is a surprising suspect. The second, also a surprise, is her half brother Tyrone, Mabel’s and LeRoy’s son. The third suspect is a gangster named Lawrence Hampoli now living in Pueblo, Colorado with whom LeRoy was in business. Juney-boy Stokes, a transsexual from whom LeRoy stole songs, is the fourth. LeRoy stole money from the fifth suspect, Roland Jefferson who invested in his Stax of Wax Recording Company.

Given Clothilde’s nasty attitude, CJ doesn’t like working for her but he needs the money because he’s broke. The last man he bailed out skipped town, leaving him with no money to pay bills. Before the job is over, CJ and Clothilde are almost killed as they arrive at Mae’s Louisiana Kitchen just as a bomb goes off wrecking the place. Later, he and his cowboy sidekick, Billy DeLong, will be run off the road near Pueblo, Colorado and shot at in Chicago.

LeRoy Polk was a DJ known as Daddy Doo-Wop Polk and built the music business Stax of Wax in the 1950s. He worked and fronted for the mob in Chicago and amassed a fortune that he used to start his own record label. He may have made some master tapes that the mob didn't know about. The tapes are the key to who killed him and Mabel.

The red nickels of the title were coins with a red strip that owners who rented the jukeboxes were forced to use. They gave customers change in red nickels, and the customers used them to play songs on the jukeboxes. The gangster who operated the jukebox business collected the money.

I don't usually test my detecting ability against that of the sleuth. I prefer to watch him or her as s/he collects and assembles the clues. However, in The Devil’s Red Nickel, I found myself trying to identify the killer before CJ. The killer’s elusive identity, held back until the penultimate chapter, is a real surprise.

What I really liked about the novel is the brief history of Juneteenth and the background setting of the rhythm and blues industry during the 1950s. It brought make memories of my youth growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee and listening late at night to the DJs on the black radio station in Memphis.

If you enjoyed The Devil’s Hatband, you’ll enjoy The Devil’s Red Nickel even more, especially if you are a rhythm and blues fan.

I hope all of you had a scary Halloween and are looking forward to a Happy Thanksgiving.

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