Debra B. Schiff and Doug MacLeod – Murder At The Crossroads
170 Pages Paperback edition
There are a multitude of books that focus on blues music. Many books delve into the history of the music, how it has impacted the many branches of modern music, and the sociological conditions that helped create and nurture blues as an art form. The auto-biographies and biographies of many of the blues legends can be found in even greater numbers. But if a reader is looking for a solid work of fiction based on blues music, you might have to search for a bit.
Murder At The Crossroads is billed as a blues mystery, and it lives up to that designation. The tale centers on Eddie Baker, a blues guitarist of some stature who nevertheless is still hustling for gigs and trying to earn some money to cover his share of the living expenses with his girlfriend, who is becoming more disenchanted with each passing day.
Known for his tasteful playing, Baker is a favorite of many of the older, traditional blues artists, musicians like Pee Wee Crayton and Lowell Fulson. But sideman wages only take you so far. After a decade honing his skills in the Chicago clubs, the guitarist made a move to California, for the promise of warmer weather and better opportunities. But his time on the Los Angeles scene has failed to solidify his personal situation, a source of much frustration.
Then comes the phone call that turns his world upside down. An old friend from his hometown in Mississippi reaches out with news of an upcoming murder trial. That news conjures up a litany of memories that Baker has tried hard to keep at bay, often with the assistance of alcohol. It takes him back to a night when his world was shattered, causing him to leave town in a hurry, without a good-bye to family or the girl he loved. All of those nights playing music in Chicago and Los Angeles, no matter how fine they were, have not been enough to ease his worried mind.
Reluctantly, Baker ventures back to Mississippi to reunite with old friends, knowing full well that a reckoning with the past will be on the horizon. Schiff uses flashbacks to illuminate the details of the fateful event that, unbeknownst to Baker, changed so many lives. His arrival in town causes the plot to begin to swirl, creating a cacophony of lies, racial issues, and betrayals that build to an explosive finish, albeit with several twists that seemingly come out nowhere.
With one previous book to her credit, Murder To Scale, based in the model railroading community, author Debra B. Schiff has experience putting together a compelling tale of fiction. Any of the passages regarding Baker’s musical activities ring with an air of authenticity. Credit Schiff with having the foresight to enlist the aid of acoustic artist Doug MacLeod in writing the book. A true master of the music, MacLeod ”lends” Baker’s character a number of stories from his own life, tales that came from his experiences with Crayton, George “Harmonica” Smith, Smokey Wilson, and other West coast legends.
MacLeod’ participation also ensures that the finer points of a musician’s life, and the art of making music, are accurately portrayed throughout the tale. Schiff adds an extra layer of realism by integrating other blues artists like William Clarke, Rod & Honey Piazza, and Son Seals into the story-line.
While it starts out a bit slow, the plot picks up the pace in short order. A few more pages would have allowed Schiff to add some depth to Baker’s character. That aside, readers should find plenty to enjoy with this mystery centered in what many claim as the land where the blues began.