|Saturday, 03 May 2014 00:00|
Memphis Mojo Reviewed in the Anniston Star
Over the course of 17 books, Gerald Duff has proven himself a Southern treasure. His novels and short stories are as remarkable as his poetry and memoirs. Want Southern short stories as good as any contemporary fiction around? Try "Fire Ants" or "Decoration Day." Want a lyrically honest contemporary Southern memoir? Embrace "Home Truths."
Ever willing to venture into new territory, Duff has written a couple of droll, sometimes dark, crime novels. "Memphis Ribs" introduced readers to J. W. Ragsdale, a former Mississippi cotton farmer eking out a living as a Memphis homicide detective. Now Ragsdale is back.
"Memphis Mojo" begins in a local International House of Pancakes where a gang of four has gathered to discuss — sometimes loudly — all sorts of stuff, including their next caper. Things aren't going very well.
Across the restaurant sit J. W. Ragsdale and his partner, Tyrone Walker, who don't see eye to eye on much — except for making sure, with tongues firmly in cheeks, Memphis is a safe place for the rest of us.
Ragsdale and Walker serve as straight men, essentially, for a wonderfully bizarre collection of misfits, all so beautifully quirky as to be worthy of the pen of, say, Donald Westlake. Beulahdene Jackson, in her little brown house on a run-down Memphis street, has just become the victim of a home invasion. Outraged councilwoman Ovetta Bichette (contemplate some of her nicknames) is using a missing high-school student to shore up her public image.
Across town, Jimbo Reynolds is looking for a new cathedral for his Sun-Up Ministry of the Big Corral, his latest religion-based scam in which God is the Boss, believers are Range Hands and Jimbo is the appointed — er, anointed — Holy Range Foreman, whose job is to teach the "Cowboy's Prayer." It's all about "love, money, or networking" to Jimbo.
Oh, and there's Randall Eugene McNeill, street name Do Run Run, who's been answering to the name Colorado since becoming Jimbo's latest acolyte. Colorado's staying away from Central High School and seems to be spending more and more of his days channeling Ricky Nelson for advice.
All of this comes together in brilliantly convoluted, wholly satisfying fashion. Pretentions are skewered while Memphis is celebrated in the wry, wicked and completely winning "Memphis Mojo.: Duff's got just enough of the old mojo and that's a good thing, a really good thing.
To read the review online at The Anniston Star, click here.