In his modern Texas whodunit, Blakely melds a Las Vegas Mafioso tale into the Austin music scene.
It’s 1975, and Creed Mason has come back to Texas just as alt-country is taking off. Creed’s a Vietnam vet with a Purple Heart; he’s bitter because his one-time singing partner, Dixie Houston, parlayed his talent into her own fame after he was drafted. Blakely’s Texas tale widens its trail to follow Austin-bound Rosabella Martini, who's running from her Vegas wiseguy uncle Paulo. Rosabella was adopted, and so there was no blood loyalty in play after she stumbled on her cousin Franco cleaning up a mob hit. Franco's trailed her to Texas and made her his next victim. Next enters Luster Burnett, a legendary but long-retired country musician with a "tone as smooth as an aged whiskey." Luster’s manager shot himself, leaving the singer with gambling markers—some held by Paulo Martini—an IRS lien and the need to get out on the road to sell some records. Creed meets Luster at a poker game and ends up as his band leader, which gives the author, a professional musician, a chance to display his chops writing about the bus-riding, beer-drinking, honky-tonk life of a work-a-day guitar player, right down to the barroom gigs where fights spread "like ripples from a rock tossed into the corner of a pool of nitroglycerin." Blakely’s grip on 1970s social transitions shines as well as he describes a land where folks were still trying to work out who's "colored" and who can be called "boy" as he brings in African-American FBI Special Agent Mel Doolittle, on Paulo's case in Vegas, to partner with Texas Ranger Hooley Johnson, who's investigating Rosabella's murder. Toss in fishing, floating poker games, a précis on songwriting and a fiddler with a propensity for puking, and Blakely brings it all together with a Las Vegas shootout and an unanticipated payoff.
A little dark to be a comic caper, but with an original plot and Texas-true characterizations, it’s a top-notch mystery.