What a pleasure to be back with JP Kinkaid, his wife Bree, and the rest of the Blacklight entourage. Deborah Grabien, JP’s creator, has again set out to give life to an aging rock band still good enough to make it in the charts as well as at the box office, not to mention us groupies who happily await each new book.
This time out, the story opens at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Grabien, never one to keep her readers in just one place, takes us from Ohio, back to JP’s home in San Francisco, then back to Ohio and down to Mississippi, to the Waldorf Astoria Grand Ballroom in New York City, and San Francisco again. Grabien is great at fleshing out her locations, each so distinctive and vivid that the reader would almost swear they’ve been there before.
One of the strong points about the Kinkaid chronicles is Grabien’s confidence as a writer to take her time with her characters. If you started with Book #1, Rock and Roll Never Forgets, you’ll remember JP Kinkaid rocking into middle age, but an age in which drugs and heavy sex are part of his past. Included in that book was the death of his estranged wife and his future with longtime girlfriend, Bree. Grabien’s characters are not just getting older, they are actually maturing. Thrown into the mix is JP’s ongoing struggle with MS, realistically described in large part because it is the same disease the author struggles with herself. Among her repertory cast of characters is Patrick Ormand, San Francisco police detective (out of NYC) who is the professional sleuth of the chronicles and a great fan of the Kinkaids, especially, thinks JP, his wife, Bree.
Ah, yes, there is always a mystery, so the sleuth is a given, but as in all the chronicles, death is only one part of the story. Grabien’s readers know that before the murderer is identified, there’s a whole lot of musical insider information to be had. In Graceland, we are on intimate terms with the R&R Hall of Fame’s nominating process. Farris “Bulldog” Moody, the elderly Mississippi Delta blues guitar pioneer being inducted into the Hall of Fame, is Grabien’s vehicle to introduce her readers to the rich history of the American blues tradition going back to slave, Cuban and Caribbean roots.
The death of a young and appealing Cleveland reporter hard at work on a biography of Moody takes detective Ormand, at JP’s request, into the case and out of San Francisco and back to the places hidden in Moody’s life — and in JP and Bree’s, as well. The married relationship between JP and Bree is one of the few mature love stories being written and Graceland offers Grabien a chance to move them into some surprising situations written with a passionate honesty.
Because of its subject, rock and roll, Graceland should appeal to a readership not limited to mystery lovers. Especially in Graceland do we see the depth of Grabien’s ability to explore and understand the complexities of both death and life.