“Crime Plus Music” edited by Jim Fusilli is a collection of 20 darkly intense music related noir stories. Best-selling authors such as Peter Robinson, Craig Johnson, Alison Gaylin, and Reed Coleman along with many others combine their mystery skills with their music interests.
Jim Fusilli, a crime author and the Wall St. Journal’s rock/pop critic, thought an anthology involving the themes that link his professions would be interesting. The chronology of the authors’ chapters showed a sweep of emotions and avoided putting similar stories together. He hoped readers would be exposed to new authors and would get twenty different perspectives involving the world of music; although his role was to provide consistency among the stories.
It is not uncommon for crime fiction writers to weave music into their stories with Peter Robinson coming to mind. Although his novels have the main character, Detective Alan Banks listening to some type of music, this short story, “The Blackbird,” does not include him. In the short story, the main character Tony Foster, a musician, is a loner until he met Connie, but unfortunately drugs destroyed their relationship, a subject that comes up a lot when speaking of rock music.
Robinson said he did not have a Banks story in mind and wanted a modern version of the Greek Music G-d. Because the Blackbird had a gimpy wing “I had the main character imitating this bird. Connie led a Bohemian life and I had the crime involving a drug overdose. What I realized part way through the story was how my thoughts went to the Paul McCartney song ‘Blackbird,’ with the lyrics ‘Blackbird singing in the dead of night.’ Using that and combining crime with horror I created this story.”
Regarding his own short story, “Boy Wonder,” Fusilli wanted to explore the contemporary electronic dance music world. His character’s Hollywood-type mother wanted her son to become a famous music star, something she always dreamed of. What would win, his soul or the executive scumbags?
The plot has a boy, Bowie Thomas, from a small town in Michigan coming to Los Angeles. His choice: to pursue art versus commerce. Fusilli had “The mother name her child after the rock star David Bowie. At the time of writing I did not know David Bowie was going to die. I was quite fond of him so if it is in some way a tribute to him that is kind of wonderful. I wanted to write about the conflict between art and commerce. I find the commercialism of popular music very disturbing.”
Another story by Reed Coleman is about a one-hit wonder and explores how organized crime is big part of the music industry. “Look At Me/Don’t Look At Me” has Terry James Lake as a folk/R & B singer. His manager, Carla Saroyan, sold his rights to some disdainful people and they required him to go on this disco dance show, lip singing his hit or there would be dire circumstances.
Based on an incident Reed remembers from his childhood, this story was something he had on the back burner for quite awhile. He spoke of an incident “in the 1970s on the show “Dance Fever,” a disco dancing show. One Saturday night I was watching an appearance by Johnny Rivers, a ’60s recording song. I thought it odd he would appear on this type of show. He looked so uncomfortable and out of place lip singing his famous song, “Secret Agent Man.” I included the real fact that music in the 60s and 70s were controlled by the mob, bringing into the story gangsters.”
The story by Alison Gaylin is centered on the punk scene. Using the band X’s lead singer, Exene Cervenka as a model, she wrote about a strong-willed singer. The song mentioned in the short story, “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene,” is about a man who begins attacking women after taking a drug that makes him need to have sex every hour on the hour.
Gaylin thought about this song she heard, while in high school. “It is such a bizarre song with a creepy meaning. It is about a fictional drug that makes a man want to have sex every hour. The story, “All Ages,” has Lara Ramsey, wanting closure as she gets her revenge. It’s a great basis for a female revenge story.”
Craig Johnson is one of the few writers who actually used his main character Walt Longmire in this story, “Unbalanced.” The sheriff gives a young woman a ride as he heads to the airport to pick up his daughter. This troubled young woman tells him her story with the CD of Merle Haggard playing in the background.
He noted, “Since Merle had just died I wanted this story to be a shout out to him. I really felt the song was the connection between the story and the characters. This was a story I really wanted to write.”
“Crime Plus Music” has most of the stories with unhappy endings. Anyone who likes to read short stories will enjoy reading how the music is blended into a mysterious plot.