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Leavin' Trunk Blues [Hardcover]

Ace Atkins
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 11 2000 Nick Travers Mysteries
It's been a year since Nick Traver's search for the lost recording of blues phantom Robert Johnson in Crossroad Blues. He has grown comfortable playing his harp at JoJo's in the French Quarter and teaching blues history at Tulane. A difficult case was the last thing on the blues tracker's mind.

When new details on the mysterious death of a blues record producer surface from a legendary guitarist over a bottle of Crown Royal, Nick becomes intrigued. In 1959, Billy Lyons' body was found stabbed with an ice pick and floating in Lake Michigan. His lover, a blues singer named Ruby Walker, was sentenced to life in prison for the murder. But even after Ruby was sentenced, rumors emerged of a gambling debt to the black mafia or a possible hit called by Lyons' partner, Moses Jordan, who moved on to immortality with another label.

After arriving at Chicago's Union Station, Travers learns there are still those who'd like Billy Lyons' murder to remain unsolved. He soon has fresh blood splattered on his boots and he's running in the blackened snow from a rogues gallery of killers that include a 6-foot-5, 300 pound breathing ball of hate named Stagger Lee Jordan and a beautiful pair of sociopaths--Butcher Knife-Totin' Annie and Fast-Lovin' Fannie--two women with respective talents for love and death.

His quest for Lyons' killer retraces the route of the Delta greats during the Great Migration of blacks after World War II. From the historic Maxwell Street Market to the South Side's Checkerboard Lounge, take a hint from Robert Johnson when he sang, "C'mon. Baby don't you want to go. Back to that same old place--My Sweet Home Chicago."

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From Amazon

Nick Travers, who made his first appearance in Crossroad Blues, is a musicologist in the Alan Lomax tradition--a blues historian who teaches at Tulane and devotes his spare time to tracking down the forgotten greats of the past. He's been trying to line up an interview with one of them: Ruby Walker, a '50s blues songstress who's been in an Illinois prison for 40 years for murdering her lover. Ruby finally agrees to talk to Nick--if he'll look into the circumstances of the crime for which she was unjustly convicted. That takes Nick back to Chicago at Christmas, and sets him on the trail of a legendary, mythic figure named Stagger Lee, who's not a myth after all, but a man with a deadly secret and no compunction about killing to keep it hidden.

Nick's hopeless love affair with Kate, first met in author Ace Atkins' previous suspense story, gets a reprise here, too. Now an investigative reporter with a Windy City paper, she teams up with Nick to find out what really happened and spring Ruby from jail. What makes this otherwise routine mystery interesting is Nick's (and the author's) encyclopedic knowledge and deep appreciation of his subject (music, not murder). The pacing is pretty slow. If you put a little Muddy Waters on the stereo, you won't mind stopping to hear a particularly sweet riff before you start reading again. --Jane Adams

From Kirkus Reviews

Nick Travers, pro footballer turned academic, is back for his second riff as the blues historian with dynamite in his fists. This time out he leaves his Tulane University home base en route for Chicago to interview legendary songbird Ruby Walker (the Sweet Black Angel), who some think topped even Bessie Smith as the greatest blues lady of them all. Nick won't have any trouble locating her, he knows, since for the past 40 years she's bunked in an Illinois state prison. Convicted of murdering her manager/lover, downtrodden Ruby has been virtually sphinxlike while serving a life sentence--no interviews, almost no communication with anyone. But much to Nick's surprise she's expressed a desire to see him. She wants more than that, he soon learns: she wants him to put on his Sherlock cap and prove her innocence. She's heard about him, she says, heard how he helped others (Crossroad Blues, 1998). Hope can be mean, she tells him, but thanks to him, she has hold of it again. Nick finds her irresistible, of course, and begins an investigation that takes him deep into the sad, bad world of blues musicians, where he encounters dirty secrets, ugly lies, a former lover, and a demented though dedicated murderer. In the end, however, he does give Ruby a little to smile about.Atkins loves his blues musicians and writes eloquently about them, but the beat of his pacing, bogged down in backstory, can be the most funereal feature of this murderous tale. -- Copyright © 2000 Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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JOJO'S BLUES BAR was a warm shot of whiskey, a cold Dixie on the side, and blues that could exorcise demons like a voodoo priestess. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars True Blue American! Dec 26 2003
By Rafik
Format:Mass Market Paperback
"Leavin Trunk Blues" by Ace Atkins kept my attention. Especially when I got half-way through. Despite the book's minor shortcomings, the plot and concept are brilliant. I will definitely get his first novel Cross Road Blues. FYI, I love the blues and play sax in a couple of bands. Blues music is an American art form that has many shapes and faces and Ace thankfully, is one of them. Reading the book made me appreciate the blues that much more. The story is based on Ruby Walker, a famous blues singer who was wrongfully sent to prison for a crime she did not commit. When she said, "Iam the Blues," I was hooked. In comes Nick Travers, blues historian and all-around good guy. Whose faced against a famous fictional evil character named Stagger Lee, made to be very real and throroughly hateful. As our hero digs up the past, bodies start dropping. Culiminating into a good read. Peopled with colorful characters you want to know more about. "Leavin", keeps you thinkin.
I look forward to see more from this author. Thanks Ace!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Solid and moving. Aug. 12 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Atkins' story has a nice combination of solid writing, combined
with an engaging and moving story line.
Our hero, Nick, loves blues music better than anything, maybe
even better than his remembered girl friend, Kate, and when
he is given the chance to go to Chicago and root around in
the past, with the expectation of a revealing interview with
a former blues singer now in prison, he can't wait to get started. His trip north not only allows him to have that interview with a former blues great, whose career was cut
terribly short by a conviction of murdering her lover, but it
also allows him to re-united with that warm ex-, Kate.
When he attempts to learn the truth about the death of the long-
gone musician, for which Ruby was convicted, he encounters
one of the most nasty of fictional killers, and he also
runs into obstacles put up, mysteriously, by former friends
and fellow-musicians of the dead blues man.
The obstacles and problems only encourage Nick to further
explore the decades-old murder, as well as the story told him
by the inmate convicted of killing him.
It's a moving and warm story, both intricate and straightforward, and Atkins does a very nice job of combining
the elements of a good read.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Blues Mystery Aug. 1 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback
In "Crossroad Blues", Ace Atkins examined the legend and music of Robert Johnson, essentially taking a real man and making him fictional. In "Leavin' Trunk Blues", Atkins, casts blues myth Stagger Lee as a character, essentially taking a fictional man and making him real.
Stagger Lee is the name of a number of blues and jazz standards about a tough Chicago man who gambles with, then murders, a fellow named Billy (usually Lyons). The stories are always the same, though a number of different artists, from Lloyd Price to Wilson Pickett, from the Grateful Dead to Nick Cave, have taken ownership of the song by switching around events, tempos, names, details. But the centerpiece is still the evil, dangerous, magnetic Stagger Lee.
In Ace Atkins' version, Stagger Lee is all the evil in Chicago's south side rolled into a single man, and Billy Lyons was the manager of a female blues artist, Ruby Walker, known as "the Sweet Black Angel". When Billy turned up dead, the Black Angel was accused of his murder and went to prison for life.
Enter Nick Travers, blues historian, amateur detective and old softy. When Ruby asks Nick to help her find out who killed Billy and get her out of jail, Nick jumps right in, meeting famous blues musicians, beautiful, knife-wielding assassins and Stagger Lee himself, taking time along the way to take a dig at that little blond kid who thinks he plays the blues but isn't old enough to know what they are.
Ace Atkins writes well. He's toned down a lot of the purple prose that marred "Crossroad Blues" and here concentrates on good, solid description and storytelling.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Sweet Home Chicago! July 30 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Oh, baby don't you want to go
Back to the land of California, to my sweet home Chicago
It seemed like everyone in the Mississippi delta country could hear that sweet song that Robert Johnson sang calling them north to Chicago. It fell on there ears like a sweet lullaby, a promise of a better life to the north. Young Ruby Walker was no exception. As a teenager she haunted the roadhouses and blues joints hoping that one day she could sing the blues in the sweet home up north "Chicago."
Well, Ruby did make it north and for a while it was a good and sweet home. Ruby hit the big time and became known for her song Leavin' Trunk Blues. But it seemed predestined that Ruby was to live a life of the blues. One morning she woke up soaked in the blood of her manager and lover, Billy Lyons and before she knew it she was serving life in the big house for his murder.
That was in 1959 and as the years pass slowly by, Ruby steadfastly maintained that she is innocent. She begins to write to professor and blues historian Nick Travers. Nick agrees to research the circumstances surrounding the murder, because he hopes to do research on Ruby, her life and the people she knew at the time. Nick feels that historians are missing the opportunity to record living history by forgetting the people who participated in the great migration and focusing on the 1930's and the delta.
Ace Atkins has created a tasty mystery with Leavin' Trunk Blues, the second of his Nick Travers series. It is nicely atmospheric taking place in Chicago with Nick visiting blues clubs as well as Chicago's seedy underbelly to dig up information. Fast paced with action and adventure to spare, it draws the reader quickly into Nicks world.
Nick is an unlikely sleuth.
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