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.
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