Thursday, January 17, 2013

Book Review: Blues Highway Blues by Eyre Price

[I've been on a reading binge lately. Around Christmas I found a book on Amazon's lending library called Blues Highway Blues. Here's what I thought.]

A love of legend stands at the heart of Eyre Price's 2012 novel Blues Highway Blues. The book is a light lesson in the evolution of American music, wrapped in mob thriller, shadowed by the kind of mythos that makes stories of the past so alluring.

The story centers around Daniel Erikson, a washed up music promoter who gets tangled with the Russian mob. When he's taken at gun point to the safe in his Malibu home to repay the million-ish dollars he owes, he finds not the money, but the first CD of many that lead him on a scavenger hunt from the crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul, through legendary music cities like Memphis, Nashville, Chicago and beyond, all in hopes of getting back his cash. Along the way he meets a mysterious/magical old man named Mr. Atibon who serves as a sort of spirit guide for Daniel.

At first blush, mixing music, the Russian mob (most prominently an unusually decent hitman named Moog and his temporary sidekick, a psycho Mexican assassin named Rabidoso), and magic sounds like a mess, but Price makes it work. We live in a time of  such high levels of voluntary transparency– online, mainly– it's hard to create, maintain, or even care for mythology. So when Daniel first parks his car at the crossroads and meets Mr. Atibon, a preacher of lore,  he crosses a crucial line on behalf of the reader and accepts that something else is going on. As Atibon says, "Truth don't never stand in the way of a good story."

In much the same way, the reader has to get passed a few silly metaphors and turns of writing ("His business as a music promoter came crashing down around him like a Malibu mud slide") but otherwise, the style is fun and often humorous ("He walked over to the Frigidaire-sized henchman...and patted the man's unnaturally broad chest with a pet lover's affection"), even poignant ("Having a child just gives Fate a hostage").

What we get is a really entertaining thriller road trip. We get to go with Daniel and breathe the air in the alley behind Nashville's most famous honky tonk bar, Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, where Hank Williams supposedly took breathers during Ryman shows. We get to stare into the abandoned Stax Records building in Memphis. We get to track down an old studio musician in Detroit. We get to wonder what exactly Mr. Atibon is and how he manages to turn up everywhere.

Price gets uncomfortably bloody in a few places. For instance, early on one minor character gets brutally carved up by the violence-loving Rabidoso. I assume it's in an effort to communicate what is at stake; after all, Daniel spends much of his time worrying what might happen if the mobsters get a hold of his son before he can repay the money, but when so many other parts of the book teeter on the edge of lovably ridiculous (Rabidoso lusting after Moog's dozen Big Dat doughnuts, Daniel driving an 18-wheeler through a line of police cars), the tone shift jars.

But despite that, the story still manages to feel light. It's a satisfying, and fast-paced read. Most of all, Price leaves the reader with an appealing and hopeful thought. As Daniel realizes, "Perhaps there was truth in every legend."

No comments: