Nashville P.I.

Dead Folk’s Blues

by Steven Womack  –  Ballantine Books paperback original, January 1993  –  featuring Harry Denton, private investigator

This is the 30th in my series of Friday Forgotten Books

“All right, I’ll tell you. But you have to promise not to laugh, okay? I’m a private investigator. In Nashville, Tennessee.”

Steven Womack lives in Nashville Tennessee and has worked in journalism as a UPI reporter, City Editor and news bureau photographer. He is also a screenwriter (“Fire on the Mountain”, “Days and Nights of Molly Dodd”) and screen writing instructor and has a background as a graphic artist. He writes two series. The first features New Orleans public relations man Jack Lynch and is comprised of Murphy’s Fault (1990) Smash Cut (1991) and The Software Bomb (1993).

The other series begins with this book and features Harry Denton, Nashville Private Eye. The series continues with Torch Town Boogie (1993), Way Past Dead (1995), Chain Of Fools (1996). The fifth, Murder Manual, was published in June 1998.

Harry James Denton is thirty five, single, opinionated, curious, usually broke. He lives in an attic apartment in an old East Tennessee neighborhood which he tells us is “the funky part of town, the neighborhood where Archie Bunker would have lived if he had been born in Music City and had driven a truck for a living.” It’s a working class, blue collar neighborhood and these days Harry is a working class, blue collar of guy. There was a time when he was a hot-shot reporter for Nashville’s biggest newspaper, regularly getting a byline on page one, above the fold. He used to frequent upscale bars and restaurants and rub shoulders with influential people. That was before his divorce, and before he was fired from the newspaper for breaking a story too hot for his editor to protect him from the Nashville political machine. Now he looks back on his upscale tastes with a combination of disdain and regret.

Reporters make lots of contacts, and one of Harry’s was Lonnie Smith, a junk dealer and repo man with a penchant for computers, rebuilding old electronic equipment and fooling with homemade explosives. After Harry got his PI license and set up his office near the corner of Seventh and Church streets, nothing happened. Harry went to his one-room office every day and listened to the sounds of Ray and Slim, a pair of country music songwriters with an office down the hall, picking out songs or occasionally having a party. He even stopped by occasionally to have a beer with them. After a while, to keep the wolf from the door, Harry called Lonnie and started working for him repossessing cars and doing some skip tracing, waiting for a case to come his way. One day, in a scene out of a classic P.I. film, a beautiful blonde walks into his office.

Her name is Rachel and she’s married and worried. She’s obviously trouble but it seems Harry’s a sucker for a good looking dame. Her husband, Conrad Fletcher, is a mean, lecherous, game playing, power wielding surgeon at the University Hospital and he’s up to his neck in debt to a very tough bookie. Rachael hires Harry to discreetly get her husband out of his gambling debts. The problem is Fletcher doesn’t manage to stay alive long enough for Harry to help at all.

There’s no shortage of suspects, and Harry talks to everyone he can think of, trying to piece together the motives and events resulting in the murder. Sergeant Spellman tells him to let the police handle things, but Harry feels a responsibility to Rachel to keep digging into the case, or maybe he hopes that by solving it he can re-ignite their long-past relationship. Harry stumbles his way through this case like the amateur private eye he is, but with Lonnie’s help, a lucky break, and a little last-second insight he manages to solve the case. Pretty darn good, and so are the next few in the series.

~  ~  ~  ~

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more FFB reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of today’s participating blogs.

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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13 Responses to Nashville P.I.

  1. Bill Crider says:

    Great pick. I used to see Steve at conventions all the time. No more. I hope he’s still writing.

  2. Patti Abbott says:

    This one sounds great. I’d love to read one set in Nashville.

  3. Evan Lewis says:

    How much of the story in these books revolves around the music scene?

  4. Jeff Meyerson says:

    This won the Best Paperback Edgar award, I believe. I haven’t read any of his books. I checked and my library has all of the ones in the Nashville series but only one (the third) in the other series.

    Paperback Swap also has a newer title, non series apparently, called BY BLOOD WRITTEN, from 2007.

  5. Richard says:

    Evan, this one has quite a bit of the music scene in it, the second one has some, not as much, and I don’t remember from there, but there is some of it in all of them.

  6. I have all Womack’s books, but never got around to reading them. Now I will.

  7. Carl V. says:

    Wow, that author has a really interesting background with his various jobs. Interesting set of skills that he brings to the writing game. I like mysteries a great deal and yet I tend to not read very many of them over the course of the year, so I really enjoy these posts which add to my list of potential authors to try out one day.

  8. Whoever wrote this review, thanks for the kind words and for remembering my “forgotten” book. I do appreciate it. And thanks for the other bloggers and commentators as well, with a special shout out to Bill Crider. I miss seeing you on the circuit, Bill.

    I am still writing, but about a decade ago, I got remarried and became a parent very late in life (I’m old enough to be my kids grandfather). Simultaneously, I got caught up in that publishing tsunami that pretty well wiped out the midlist.

    With a new baby and a dwindling writing income, I decided to take a full-time teaching job at a small college here in Nashville. I teach screenwriting at the Watkins College of Art, Design & Film. And apparently they’re happy with me, because three years ago I became Chair of the Watkins Film School.

    Between that and two daughters (now six and nine), there’s not much left over at the end of the day. But I’m working on a novel and hope someday to get completely back in the game.

    In the meantime, to all you guys, thanks for remembering me.

    Steven Womack

  9. RenoMike says:

    Steve Womack is more than just a skillful storyteller and a superior writer. He’s a man to be treasured as a friend. I’m an old guy whose lived a lot of years and met a lot of faces. I’m here to tell you that Womack and John Siegenthaler (the old guy, also) are the two most admirable men I’ve ever met. They make Nashville a place I keep wanting to go back to. Which is a preposition at the end of a sentence. Sue me.

  10. “By Blood Written” is my favorite Steve Womack book, about an author who turn serial killer to get material for his books, catapulting him to best seller status. Terrifically fun to read–as one reviewer put it–“an edge of the seat thriller,” it is also an ironic commentary on the state of the publishing industry and the American appetite for violence. This is the one that should have been on the Best Seller list.

  11. RenoMike says:

    Dear Sally Schloss: Amen.
    Despite the huge population of rubes working in Manhattan, one might reasonably assume that at least one of the functioning brains in somewhere in New York’s publishing universe would kick in, thus enabling the inevitable success of, “By Blood Written.” That it hasn’t already happened is insane. Less loony is my belief that somehow, some way, Steven Womack will get the audience, attention, and commensurate scratch he deserves.

  12. Pingback: ffb: Torch Town Boogie by Steven Womack | The Broken Bullhorn

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