Tishomingo Blues

Tishomingo Blues_ElmoreLeonard_147209

JUST A BUNCH OF GOOD OL’ BOYS

4 STARS

Dennis Lenahan is tired of running his one-man high dive show out of amusement parks in Florida. So after a lot of research and turn-downs, he negotiates a deal with the new Tishomingo Resort, a casino in Tunica, Mississippi, on the River near Memphis. While making the final adjustments to the rigging at the top of his 80-feet-tall ladder, he watches as two men approach the local rigger he had hired to help him assemble the show.

Hearing five shots below him and seeing the two men start to walk away, he knows that his rigger is dead and that he is likely to be next. Arguing over whether to shoot Dennis after he climbs down or whether to shoot him in mid-air as he tries to dive to safety, the two men are interrupted by another casino vendor, Charlie Hoke. The men walk away with Charlie and Dennis escapes by diving the 80 feet down to his tank.

Robert Taylor didn’t exactly witness the killing from the window of his suite, but he did see the two men and he did see the dive. Impressed, he intercepts Dennis on his way out of the resort and offers his assistance. Dennis accepts a ride home from this young, good-looking, well-dressed black man from Detroit, a ride in a Jaguar, no less. On the way Robert shows Dennis an old photograph of a black man hanging from a bridge and surrounded by a large crowd of whites. He tells Dennis that the dead man is his great-grandfather and that he had run afoul of his employer, the great-grandfather of one of Tunica’s more prominent businessmen, Walter Kirkbride. Robert states that he intends to discuss this matter with Walter. But before Dennis can get more particulars, they see one of the men who killed Dennis’ rigger come out of the house where Dennis rents a room.

Elmore Leonard writes social satire and parody and his characters are usually neither super-heroes nor dissociative psychopaths. For instance, our main protagonist, Dennis Lenahan, due to his occupation is not exactly Joe Average, but he does not aspire to the fame or fortune of Evel Knievel either. He is not the brightest bulb, but he knows when to listen and when to question, and he knows how to evaluate what he hears and observes. He likes who he is, and he is content to have a roof over his head, food in his belly, a little change in his pocket and a cute girl in his bed when the mood strikes. And, while minding his own business, literally, he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Now, Robert Taylor is different, yet very much the same. About the same age as Dennis, he likes who he is and does not aspire to public notoriety either. However, fortune is another matter. And while minding his own business, watching Dennis on the top of the ladder, watching two men at the bottom of the ladder, he knows he is in the right place at the right time.

For the first 200 pages, you’re involved in a lot of smoke and mirrors, a lot of shuck and jive, a lot of Leonard’s classic use of blatant stereotypes and racial denigration. His usual use of outrageous gender bias in his characters’ dialogue is notably absent as the female characters in this novel have actually earned every descriptive adjective bestowed upon them, good or bad. So for these 200 pages, you wonder where is this going and why are you still reading this other than the fact that it is written by Elmore Leonard.

Then you find out the real reason Robert Taylor is in Tunica, Mississippi. Now you can’t read fast enough. And the fat lady doesn’t sing until the last page either.

Cover Art from Goodreads

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