This richly atmospheric yet action-starved crime drama is the fourth installment in Atkins's New Orleansâ"based series featuring Nick Travers, a former professional football player turned amateur sleuth. Here, Travers agrees to help an old football teammate, now a wealthy music mogul, find nearly $1 million conned from one of his record labels' marquee stars, a 15-year-old rapper known only as ALIAS. Travers meets with ALIAS, but the brooding, self-involved punk is either too embarrassed to say how he got swindled or may have something more to protect than just his pride. Prowling the seedy side of New Orleans, Travers rubs up against social extremes - rival record producers, street urchins, old athletes and wealthy agents who make sport of separating entertainment stars from their money. In the process, Travers attracts a long list of enemies, several of whom make it openly known that he'd best butt out if he knows what's good for him. Atkins (Dark End of the Street) writes with the same lean prose and descriptive acumen that earned him praise for earlier efforts. Yet the plot of his latest is thin, sluggish and confusing (exactly who is the corpse-like figure who tries to kill Travers on two separate occasions?). Fans of the Delta blues will appreciate Atkins's inarguably deep musical knowledge - Travers teaches blues history at Tulane in his spare time - yet those looking for a good yarn may find themselves hopelessly tangled by the end.
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In his Nick Travers books, Atkins has demonstrated that writing a mystery is a lot like playing the blues: innovation and virtuosity are less important than the ability to find a comfortable groove. Reading him is like settling into the passenger seat for a curb-crawling drive from the staccato noise of New Orleans, through the slow funk of the swamp, to the dusty twang of the Mississippi Delta. And wiseass Travers, "roots music field researcher" and ex-pro footballer, is just the guy to steer the car and tune the dial on the dashboard radio. Here, Travers' former teammate is now a rap producer who needs big bucks to call off a death threat--and someone just conned his 15-year-old prodigy out of half-a-million bucks. After blues- and soul-related mysteries, this foray into the world of MTV and BET is a logical development. The new guard doesn't know their booming beats and angry rhymes have roots in the past, and Travers has a hard time realizing that rap might just be the blues of a new generation. Keir Graff
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"Dirty South" is the fourth novel in Ace Atkins' Nick Travers series, and each book just gets better. The title refers to a style of rap that's become popular in the southeast. Read morePublished on March 2 2004 by Rae