If you’re a reader of Ellery Queen and/or Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, you’re well acquainted with Mr. Doug Allyn. He’s had well over a hundred stories published in those two magazines over the past thirty years, along with at least seven novels and several collections of short stories.
This guy is one hell of a writer, and he proves it once again in The Jukebox Kings, a tale of crime, love, redemption and music on the meanest streets of Detroit.
The book starts with a punch—literally, in the middle of a prize fight—and takes us on a ten-year adrenaline rush through the dark underbelly of Motown. Our guide for the ride is Mick Shannon, fresh from Jackson Prison, and facing the hard truth that he’s just a shade too slow for the fight game. Against his will, he’s thrust into the jukebox racket, collecting from vicious bar owners and paying off to even more vicious mob bosses. It’s not the life he wants, but he wades into it, fists flying and pistol cocked, without complaint.
Things look mighty bleak for Mick until chance drops a run-down music studio into his lap, and a second career—running parallel with his life of crime—leads him in wholly unexpected directions. We’re on the inside as he learns the ropes of recording, the nightclub business and touring, in a world peopled by such icons as Jackie Wilson, John Lee Hooker, The Supremes, the Righteous Brothers and Aretha Franklin.
Most of the action takes place in the early sixties, and the author paints a vibrant picture of the times, from mohair suits and wingtips to pompadour hairdos. The dialogue—and the prose—is tough and tight. It starts on page 1, when Mick faces a fighter who “looked like he ate lions for lunch,” and never lets up.
The supporting cast includes Moishe Abrams, an old-time gangster as “square and gray as a cement block, and just as hard,” who cut his teeth working with the Purple Gang; Martika Daniels, a business-savvy soul singer who rocks Ben’s world both in and out of bed; and Albert Luca, a bat-shit crazy racketeer who’s “mean as a snake with a backache.”
The story charges forward to 1967, giving us a front-row seat to the five-day riot that was one of the bloodiest in U.S. history, prompting Gov. George Romney to send in the National Guard and LBJ to send the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, and rolls on to 1973, when Mick’s old demons come roaring back to bite him.
The Jukebox Kings is brand spanking new from Stark House Press, and raring to burst into your mailbox. You can get it direct from Stark House (HERE), or just about anywhere else that sells damn fine thrillers.
My brush with greatness: That's me with the author and his Edgar
for Best Short Story. He even let me hold it for a minute.