Friday, August 5, 2011

UnForgettable Books: Hank & Muddy by Stephen Mertz

OK, I’m cheating this week. Just published this week by Perfect Crime, Hank & Muddy (that’s Hank Williams and Muddy Waters) is by no means a forgotten book. But it’s such a cool, unique and unforgettable book that I could resist reviewing it today.

Hank & Muddy came as a big surprise. I was already in love with the concept, and expected it to be good. But it turned out to darker, wilder and way more literate than I would dreamed.

The first surprise was the first-person narration, which alternates between the two characters. Letting Muddy and Hank tell their own stories was a ballsy move, but it sure pays off. We’re catapulted into the mind of each man, and given a given a glimpse of each man's soul.

When we first meet Muddy, he can’t get his pants on fast enough. He’s been caught by an irate husband, who just happens to be a small-town southern sheriff. And before he can make his escape, the sheriff’s daughter bursts in, revealing that she, too, is one of Muddy’s bed buddies. Muddy jumps out a window and makes his escape with the help of his harmonica player, Little Walter, and his friend John Lee Hooker.

Professionally, Muddy is riding high, and his biggest problem is that Little Walter wants to be a star on his own. He’d be fine if he could just keep his pants on, especially in the presence of white women. This is 1952 (and the South, remember?) and he’s taking some BIG risks.

Hank’s troubles run deeper. After great success and a string of big hits, his drinking is catching up with him, and he’s on a downhill slide. His marriage is on the rocks, and he’s recently been dumped from the Grand Old Opry. He’ll be damn lucky if he can catch on less prestigious Louisiana Hayride. To make things worse, he’s having blackouts and sometimes wakes up in a wet bed.

Stephen Mertz is guilty of some damn fine writing here. Both characters are thoroughly convincing, and he handles their voices perfectly. By the time they meet, their troubles have deepened, and they find themselves up against a couple of maybe-FBI agents, rival Shreveport mob bosses and the Ku Klux Klan.

Bottom Line: I read most of the 2011 Edgar nominees, and this book ranks right up there. For anyone who has ever heard these guys sing - or anyone who hasn’t - Hank & Muddy is not to be missed.

My Hank & Muddy interview with Steve is HERE.

Videos of both Hank and Muddy in action are HERE.

pattinase has really Forgotten Books HERE.


Dan_Luft said...

A very ballsy move with narration. I've never paid much attention to Hank WIlliams but I've had Muddy Waters' voice in my head for years from both his songs and his stage banter in live albums.

I was going to pass but I'll give it a try.

David Cranmer said...

I'm a fan of both singers and have to admit this plot sounds unique and fresh. Thanks, Dave.

Leonard Sadorf said...

Excellent story. Just heard Mojo Mertz in an interview. Well worth the read folks!