RIDING SOLO WITH THE GOLDEN HORDE by Richard Hill

RIDING SOLO WITH THE GOLDEN HORDE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A solid but somewhat flat portrait of the artist as a young jazz musician by mystery writer Hill (Shoot the Piper, 1993, etc.). In Florida circa 1958 Vic Messenger, a talented and precocious high school senior, is growing up too fast for his own good. During the day he plays saxophone in the school band; at night he jams with jazz musicians in seedy nightclubs. He drinks too much in his search for soul and generally sabotages himself whenever he can. Vic has a big heart but little foresight, a lack that gets him kicked off the band, almost expelled from school, thrown out of his home, and nearly killed by a police officer whose authority Vic can't tolerate. He also becomes involved with a junkie prostitute singer who had aspired to be the next Ella Fitzgerald, just as Vic now aspires to be the next Charlie Parker. Vic's problem is that he doesn't quite have what it takes, and all the alcohol in the world won't give it to him. And on top of that, he is a politically correct teenager (1950s style) who feels closer to his black musician friends than he does to his redneck relatives. The most poignant scenes in the book involve Vic's encounters with racial inequality outside the meritocratic nightclub; his fellow musicians must humble themselves by playing for rich white fraternity kids or waiting on tables in restaurants where they wouldn't be allowed to eat. The novel is less successful when it tries to be technically innovative; it often comes off as disjointed rather than melodious, like a jazz riff too difficult for Vic, or his creator, to master. A decent novel with a sympathetic hero, although Vic is not the Stephen Dedalus of jazz musicians that Hill seems to want him to be.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1994
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Univ. of Georgia Press