Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Noteworthy Reads: HANK & MUDDY by Stephen Mertz

This is a rare treat—a book unique in concept, executed with obvious passion and considerable skill by author Mertz.
Shreveport, Louisiana, 1952 … Two musical legends-in-the-making—Hank Williams and Muddy Waters—are in town, their career paths on very different trajectories. After phenomenal early success, Hank is on the downslide. His marriage is on the rocks, his excessive drinking is out of control, and he's just lost his spot on the popular and prestigious Grand Ol' Opry. He's in Shreveport hoping to turn things around and regain some status by appearing on the Louisiana Hayride, the only other program to rival the Opry. Muddy, on the other hand, is riding along on a high note. His biggest problem seems to be that his most popular band member, Little Walter, is making noises like he wants to strike out on his own. Oh yeah, and Muddy has one other nagging problem … he can't make his you-know-what behave, especially when it comes to willing white women. And since this is the deep South in the early '50s, you just know that's bound to lead to trouble.
When trouble arrives, it comes big … and keeps on coming. A vengeful sheriff, crooked cops, dubious FBI agents, local mobsters, and some riled-up Klan members all figure into the mix as this tale picks up speed. There are strong elements of crime, danger, a touch of noir, and moments of hilarity. But above all there is deep insight into to the two main characters, their first-person narrative told in alternating passages. Their voices are distinct and authentic and, through them, we not only learn more about each man but we get a clear and resonating sense of time and place.
This novel is being mostly promoted as mystery/crime and, as stated, it certainly contains those elements. But it also is much more—twin character studies that read as dead-on accurate as any biography; and a slice of history that, even though fictionalized, is rich, colorfully textured, and memorable.

This is a terrific book by my friend Steve Mertz.
Don't miss it.

Persevere --- WD

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