Elmore Leonard: Tishomingo Blues

Elmore Leonard: Tishomingo Blues

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Tishomingo Blues

Author: Elmore Leonard
Publisher: Morrow
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Tishomingo Blues

Author: Elmore Leonard
Publisher: Morrow

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Without ever meaning to, the classic noir hero gets drawn into the darkness beneath his feet. Elmore Leonard doesn't write noir, exactly, but few authors understand the terrors and pleasures of the fall from grace quite so well, as Leonard's latest, Tishomingo Blues, continues to demonstrate. For protagonist Dennis Lenahan, a high-diver nearing retirement age, the fall is virtually literal. Perched atop an 80-foot platform, rehearsing for his first performance in the new casino town of Tunica, Mississippi, Lenahan witnesses a hit involving members of the Dixie Mafia. Strongly inclined to forget what he's seen, Lenahan soon encounters Robert Taylor, a charismatic visitor from Detroit who implies that he also saw the hit and its mute witness. Such leverage is his specialty, as he further demonstrates when he shows two different white businessmen a picture of a lynching, informing each that the victim is Taylor's great-grandfather, and the gloating executioner is the businessman's. But even this con is part of a larger scheme. Though evasive when asked what brought him south, Taylor seems at least partially drawn by the music. He loves the blues, and, nearly as much, the story of Robert Johnson at the crossroads. In time, Lenahan begins to suspect that Taylor has come for his soul. Though deep in John Grisham country, Leonard makes the new territory his own, stocking it with the vivid characters and dialogue that have become his trademarks. As the story builds toward a memorable finale set against a Civil War reenactment, the setting's inherent absurdity allows the author to dig into the contradictions of the modern South. Leonard keeps the comic possibilities in check with a persistent sense of danger and loss that extends well past the activities of his criminals. Watching a teenage floozy in a run-down honky-tonk leave her post, an investigator sums up her future in a few damning words: "She'd go in the ladies' room and smoke a rock, and one day she wouldn't be here." In so bleak a world, selling one's soul may have become an inevitability, but in Tishomingo, Leonard suggests that getting the best terms might be one form of virtue.

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