Thursday, July 9, 2009



Last week I posted about David Fulmer’s brilliant novel, Jass, set in 1913 New Orleans. It’s evocation of the early evolution of jazz had me returning to the first novel in Bill Moody’s more modern jazz mysteries.

Such themed mystery series are often hard to pull off successfully. Often the theme has nothing to do with the mystery or it’s resolution. Other times, the theme is strong, but the mystery is weak, negligible, or highly manipulated.

In Moody’s jazz related tales, however, he brings off the balancing act with aplomb. The biggest reason for this is Moody’s protagonist, jazz pianist Evan Horne, whose damaged hand has brought his music career to an abrupt end with little hope of rehabilitation. Horne is at once world weary, slightly sad, and just this side of melancholy, but ultimately uplifted. Moody gets the voice of his character just right as he takes us into the heart of the disappearing jazz clubs and the anathema of the repetitive, unlayered, smooth jazz explosion.

When Horne is reluctantly pulled into the role of private detective, we feel his pain as he tried to leave behind what was for an uncertain future he doesn’t want.

In Solo Hand, Moody quickly develops his premise and then turns Horne over to his first case, the blackmail of a jazz singer gone pop for whom Horne once worked.

This is the point where most themed mysteries get off track, but Moody keeps his musical chops intact, weaving the mystery through improvised jazz riffs, eventually coming full circle in time for the denouncement.

Moody’s own background as a respective jazz drummer serves him well – the reader aware on a visceral level that the jazz background is real.

As the series progresses through Death of a Tenor Man, Sound of a Trumpet, Bird Lives! (my personal favorite), Looking For Chet Baker, and the most recent series entry Shade of Blue, Moody keeps giving us strong jazz related mysteries – tapping in to real jazz myths and legends – and keeps honing his writing skills to deliver ever more assured mystery compositions.

Because of my personal bias for jazz and mysteries, this series hold prize of place in my collection among other similar, but less satisfactory attempts. Moody and Evan Horne rise above the rest like the rising scream of a tight brass section.


Brian Sheridan said...

Not a forgotten series in my library. I read every one of the Horne adventures and loved them all. What a great character and Moody's knowledge of the music and history make these incredibly entertaining!

David Cranmer said...

Jazz. Say no more. I'm there. And a great cover to the book.

pattinase (abbott) said...

On another topic, my daughter just picked up the LA book you are reading now. Funny how you see a book once and it turns up everywhere.