In the music clubs on the South Side of Chicago, the blues – once as strong as the backs of the neighborhood’s working class – has lost its hope and its voice. Seventy miles away, locked in a scarred prison cell, waits Ruby Walker. More than forty years ago, she boarded the Illinois Central from Mississippi to what she believed was her Promised Land. She became one of the greatest blues singers the city has ever known, but she lost it all after being convicted of murdering her lover and producer, Billy Lyons, in September 1959.
Decades later, a flickering hope emerges to Walker in the form of letters from a Tulane University blues historian named Nick Travers. She agrees to an interview only in exchange for him checking out what she calls the truth behind Lyons’s last hours.
After arriving at Union Station, Travers learns there are those who still want the details surrounding Lyons’s death to remain hidden in the rubble of the blighted neighborhoods-and that Walker’s fate may be the key to finding out who really murdered Lyons.
I’d thoroughly enjoyed Atkins’ first book, Crossroad Blues and once again, I found myself engulfed in the moodiness and atmosphere Atkins creates. The whole time I was reading I could almost feel the music in my bones. This time he takes his Southern Noir style away from the Mississippi Delta and on the road to the South Side of Chicago. He visits both the rich blues history of its past and the danger of its present.
There was a different feel to a Chicago blues lounge compared to a Delta juke joint. The Delta was a quart of Colt 45 and a tin roof where the sound of a harmonica would rattle through your bones. Chicago was the red lipstick on a woman’s cigarette, a double bourbon in a clean glass, saxophones, and driving guitars. So much the same but born from different needs.
I like the Nick Travers character and his love for the music and the masters of the blues is wrapped tightly around a mystery that is at times brutal. This one is dark, moody and leaves you wanting to sit back in a room with the lights turned down low and lose yourself in the music.