Publication Order of Nick Travers Books
|Crossroad Blues||(1998)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|Leavin' Trunk Blues||(2000)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The Dark End of the Street||(2002)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|Dirty South||(2004)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|Last Fair Deal Gone Down||(2012)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
The blues singers from the 1920’s and 30’s were tough and unsentimental. The earthy realism of their lives were reflected in their songs. It’s only natural to put the blues together with the finest in hard-boiled detective fiction. Author Ace Atkins has written a brilliant character in Nick Travers, a blues musicologist at Tulane and former pro football player for the New Orleans Saints. He also moonlights as a harmonica player at JoJo’s Blues Bar in the French Quarter, where the blues is the filthiest to be found in the dirty south.
Nick Travers puts the cold in cool, yet the heat rises off of him like a tin roof in the middle of summer. Just imagine a slide guitar riff following him around as he involves himself in the deepest of mysteries across the Mississippi Delta, in the parts of New Orleans the tourists can’t find, or on the backstreets of Chicago. He has the toughness you would expect from a former football pro but he dices it up with a sneaky intelligence that makes the dogs of crime bark in surrender and the ladies swoon with thoughts of other capitulations. If trouble was a woman, then it would fight Nick Travers like a battle-ax and he would put it to bed it like a furious harpy.
To top it all off, the dude is funny as hell, a regular Jack Benny. He’ll crack a joke and turn out the lights before you could squeeze out a chuckle. The quickness of his wit is lightning in a bottle and his punch lines pack a wallop worse than a blind side tackle.
And when it comes to his knowledge of blues history, he has no equal. If you want to know where Muddy Waters kept his mojo, then Nick Travers will tell you and make you wish you could swipe a dollop or two of Nick’s mojo. The restlessness ripples from the veins of his neck as he blows his harp, recalling Sonny Boy Williamson in his riffs and Howlin’ Wolf in his fearsome intimidation.
Nobody should call him out for his quirky obsession with Elvis Presley. He’ll sneer at you with his lips but he won’t stop there. He’ll put you to sleep in your own private heartbreak hotel. After all, he was unceremoniously retired from professional football for beating up his coach on national television one foreboding Monday night.
Solving mysteries with guts and guile, though, is where he excels. All manner of backdoor men will test him and try to fool him into believing various misdirections, but he susses out the slickest of blusters. Nothing gets past him. Question him and he’ll answer with a complete deconstruction of your personality from when you were a baby until the day you die, and make you wish that day was sooner rather than later.
When one of his Tulane cronies disappears in Greenwood, Mississippi while searching for nine lost recordings of Robert Johnson, Nick does what men with his type of courage do and goes looking for him. Needless to say, if the hornet’s nest he found there had not existed before he got there, it would have spontaneously arisen around him due to the combustive nature of his presence.
All manner of underworld psychopaths come at him from every direction. The murdering Elvis impersonator wants to be the King of murder and has the Tae Kwan Do skills to pull it off. Or does he? Don’t think that Nick Travers will be taken down by a smarmy little karate-kicking dude with a ducktail but these are strange days and nothing can be taken for granted. Cracker, a black man with an albino complexion, was the last human to see the great Robert Johnson alive. He plays his ancient wisdom card like an ace and almost has Nick believing his rap. Jojo is the owner of a bar in the Quarter where its fame as the last of the jukes in the city is outpaced by the mysteries that find a home there.
Love interest Virginia Dare lives up to the enigmatic nature of her name. She is a guitarist immersing herself in the Mississippi Delta to imbibe the blues in the same atmosphere as the originators. But love has no place here for the faint of heart. Nick tackles it like he does everything else – with moxie and backbone and a dash of violence.
The prime villain is a record producer who has all the slithery snakiness of a music industry honcho. He sees the blues as a tool to market his nightclub franchise to unwitting tourist types who don’t know what the meaning of the blues truly is. No need to mention the use of violence to achieve his ends by any means. This gets Nick’s dander up worse than possibly anything. It violates within him everything he holds dear. He loves the music and the blues is his true paramour.
Leavin’ Trunk Blues
Nick learns of an old murder case from an ancient blues man and fights to not be intrigued because his life is good and he doesn’t want to involve himself in another cluster of menace like he found in Greenwood. But the man can’t let it go.
He finds himself in Chicago talking to one Ruby Walker, incarcerated now for 40 years. A blues singer from Mississippi, she migrated north on the tails of all the other blues musicians and worked the roadhouses around Chicago looking to catch the big break. She takes up with a record producer named Billy Lions. One morning she wakes up with him dead in her bed and blood on her hands and body. Ruby is convicted of murder in a crime she did not commit.
Nick takes it upon himself to discover the truth of the matter and learns that there are those still kicking who wish the mystery to remain unsolved. A large, rather angry human being named Stagger Lee has murderous intent towards Nick and tries his damnedest to dispatch Nick to the great blues bar in the sky. The blues historian in him says, come on, Stagger Lee is a myth. But this isn’t a cozy mystery for the Agatha Christie set. The blood flows freely here. Chicago is on display at its down low grittiest. It’s a free-for-all of violence and grime for those who reject the tepid. Just ask Fast Lovin’ Fannie and Butcher Knife Annie for their opinions after Nick is done with them.
Ace Atkins must have gone down to the crossroads and sold his soul to the devil for the talent to write these noir spellbinders of intrigue and brutality. What he might have given up in return, we’ll never know. Maybe Nick Travers can tell us.Book Series In Order » Characters » Nick Travers