Sex, drugs, rock and roll, ass-kicking, kidnapping and murder. They’re all here raring to rock your world in Jimi After Dark, the latest mystery/thriller from Stephen Mertz.
It’s 1970, and Jimi Hendrix is at the peak of his fame. But behind the scenes his world is coming apart. His music business associates are cheating him. His illicit business associates are hounding him. And unknown forces, playing a deeper game, are trying to kill him. It’s all too much, driving Jimi into a purple haze of alcohol and drugs. So he calls for help, to an old friend we know only as Soldier, and things really start hopping.
Soldier storms into London on a two-week leave from active duty in Vietnam, to find himself in a different kind of war. The world has changed while he’s been away, and Jimi has changed with it. Soldier is thrown into a time and culture he doesn’t really understand, and has to fight, both physically and mentally, to get his bearings and survive.
Jimi After Dark is a multi-layered novel, with several stories rolling along at once. On the surface, Soldier is our guide to the hip London scene, with its clubs, music and counter culture, as he struggles with the cops, gangsters, drug dealers and women in Jimi’s life. On another level we’re up close and personal with Jimi himself as he battles his own demons, past and present, real and self-induced. Soldier’s inner conflict, juxtaposing his Vietnam reality (complete with flashbacks) with the seeming fantasy world of London, is a powerful tale of its own. And underlying it all is a theme of transformation, dealing with barbarians and Buddhists and their potential for evolution in times of war and peace.
There’s some fine prose here, as in “Time is a speeding silver phantom that won’t slow down.” There are insights into the psyche of Soldier (if I had to guess, I’d say his first name is Stephen). There are looks into Jimi’s past (his time as sideman for Little Richard) and present (his uneasy relationship with the German beauty who wants to be his wife). And there are scenes of wild abandon, as when Soldier uses Jimi’s guitar like a war club.
Jimi After Dark is part murder mystery, part political thriller, part war story, part action adventure, part love story and part rock and roll history. The author put his heart and soul into this one, and clearly had fun doing it. The result is a book that will make you happy, sad and thoughtful all at once. You'll have a mighty hard time putting it down.
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For further reading, I direct you to Paul Bishop's fine new interview with Mr. Mertz, here: