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Tishomingo Blues

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Elmore Leonard

Take a high diver who witnesses a murder from his perch 80 feet above a Mississippi casino. Add a cooler-than-thou con artist from Detroit who's out to take over the Dixie mafia's lucrative Gulf Coast drug business. Throw in a crooked deputy sheriff … see full wiki

Tags: Books
Author: Elmore Leonard
Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
Publisher: HarperTorch
1 review about Tishomingo Blues

The Man Delivers

  • May 11, 2008
Rating:
+3
That Elmore Leonard has kept writing the same kind of novels for over 40 years is impressive. What's amazing is that, far from losing a step or getting stale, he's finding new ways to deliver the goods.

At one level, 2002's "Tishomingo Blues" is another story about a guy who more or less wanders blindly into the midst of a deadly game. But the setting, the characters, and a surprisingly dense thicket of a plot all conspire to surprise even the most jaded of Dutch's readers, while entertaining most everyone else.

Dennis Lenahan is a professional high diver who routinely plunges from 80 feet in the air into a tub of water that looks more like a half-dollar coin from Lenahan's perspective. When Lenahan executes one such dive after witnessing the murder of his vagrant assistant at a Mississippi casino and resort, it impresses an onlooker named Robert Taylor, a Detroit drug-runner who wants to break into the Dixie Mafia.

Taylor's hardly what you'd call a level customer, but his admiration for Lenahan is genuine. "How many people you know can do what he does?" he asks his lady, Anne.

"He ever saw what you get into he'd die of fright," Anne replies.

Dennis gets a good look when Robert decides to make him his partner, whether Dennis wants to or no. Robert is the kind of guy who talks up his great-grandfather being lynched for talking to a white woman, then makes a point of being a Civil War re-enactor - for the South, riding for Nathan Bedford Forrest, no less. Or at least the guy who is acting the part of Forrest, and who also is connected to the Dixie Mafia in a big way. Watching Robert push buttons like he does is to feel Dennis's dilemma about staying on the right side of the law.

It's the same with Leonard. He sets up a great story with an assortment of odd characters, an offbeat premise, and tangy dialogue. There's even a nice use around the theme of crossroads, as Robert tells Dennis the story of how bluesman Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for the gift of music (and never looked back, as Taylor tells it), while the big payoff takes place around the reenactment of Brice's Crossroads, Forrest's greatest victory. The "blues" of the title thus refer both to music and the color uniform Dennis unhappily finds himself in as the bad stuff goes down.

"Tishamingo" fades toward the end a bit as things pan out a bit pat, including a shoehorned romance for Dennis. But the moral ambiguity at the story's center remains firm, providing both the most entertainment and lingering food for thought in this dense but never dull book.

Leonard readers may notice the Indian pitcher Chickasaw Charlie Hoke also appears in Leonard's other 2002 book, "When The Women Come Out To Dance", in the short story bearing his name. Another short from that collection, "Fire In The Hole", details the story of what happened to the Temple of the Cool and Beautiful J.C., a storefront church and marijuana clearinghouse Robert tells Dennis about here.

It's nice catching those connections, especially if you're like me and want to read more Leonard first chance you get.

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