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Tishomingo blues by Elmore Leonard
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Tishomingo blues (original 2002; edition 2002)

by Elmore Leonard

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1,0811611,210 (3.48)14
Member:Crispi
Title:Tishomingo blues
Authors:Elmore Leonard
Info:New York : Morrow, 2002.
Collections:Owned in an anthology, Your library
Rating:****
Tags:Library of America, Crime fiction

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Tishomingo Blues by Elmore Leonard (2002)

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English (15)  Swedish (1)  All languages (16)
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"Let us attempt to narrow it down. Elmore Leonard is a literary genius who writes re-readable thrillers. . . . Mr. Leonard possess gifts - of ear and eye, of timing and phrasing - that even the most snobbish masters of the mainstream must vigorously covet. And the question is: how does he allow these gifts play, in his efficient, unpretentious and (delightfully) similar yarns about semiliterate hustlers, mobsters, go-go dancers, cocktail waitresses, loan sharks, bounty hunters, blackmailers and syndicate executioners? My answer may sound reductive, but here goes: the essence of Elmore is to be found in his use of the present participle."

The above quote is from Martin Amis and, trust me gang, he is absolutely dead-on center here. Even though Tishomingo Blues is written in the historical present rather than the present participle, that is, “Vernice said” or “Robert said” rather than “Vernice saying” or “Robert saying,” it’s the same motor of urgent talk that drives action, the same creamy, boozy dialogue that enables Elmore Leonard to glide effortlessly into the mindstream of his characters.

The British man of letters also hits the bulls-eye when he notes how Leonard's characters have junk souls stuffed with sitcoms, ad jingles, talk shows and celebrity gossip. If you can't personally relate to the author's cast if sleazeballs, count your blessings - even when these mobsters, cocktail waitresses, drug dealers, whores and hit men possess quick wits or material wealth, scratch the surface and you come away with a garbage can of psychic trash.

So, why would I rate Tishomingo Blues among the best of Leonard’s fifty novels? For me, it’s all in the contrast: injected into the mix of vintage Elmore sordid lowlife is main character Dennis Lenahan, world class high diving dare devil. We are in Tunica, Mississippi where Dennis talks an owner of a new casino hotel into hiring him to set up his mini pool and diving tower as a special summer event to draw the crowds. Approaching age forty Dennis has been a professional stunt diver for over twenty years, from the cliffs of Acapulco to the amusement park circuit, a ton and a half of amusement parks, enough merry-go-rounds and roller coasters to prod Dennis into thinking he’s had just about enough and maybe its time to consider over venues or even a second career.

Similar to his other novels, Elmore Leonard did his research: all the rigging, wiring and various technicalities Dennis must deal with setting up his show are presented in such color and detail, the world of Tishomingo Blues comes completely alive to snap, crackle, pop and rock us from the first few pages. I’ve read the novel three times and I share Martin Amis' pleasure: kicking back and rereading Elmore is wicked and irresistible, sheer post-modern decadent bliss.

Preparing for his opening day performance, Dennis is up on his eighty-foot perch practicing diving. Meanwhile, the professional rigger hired to assist Dennis with the set-up, a local by the name of Floyd Showers, is by the pool securing the last wires. Dennis looks down as two men, one slick-haired and the other tall and wearing a cowboy hat, come outside to exchange words with Floyd. Suddenly the slick-haired one draws a pistol out from under his sportshirt and takes Floyd under the scaffolding. Dennis hears a series of pops. Evidently they both figured great place to pull off a murder since there's no witnesses. However, they misjudged; those two dudes look up and see Dennis. They know he saw them kill Floyd. Just at that moment lights come on and a beer gut bubba named Charlie Hoke, a former major leaguer who runs a pitching cage next to the hotel, comes strolling across the lawn.

Thus we have the framework for unfolding events. I wouldn't want to say anything further regarding plot since one fan of the author reports she never ever reads a review of a new Elmore Leonard before reading the book. She wants to discover the twists of the story for herself. I can't blame her - there are so many whammies and curveballs in his novels that turning the pages becomes an intense pleasure; the deeper you get into the story, the more you want to read.

Did I mention Charlie Hoke pitched for the ’84 Tigers in the World Series? Actually, Charlie lets everyone within earshot know how he dedicated over twenty years of his life to professional baseball and then will launch into a pitch by pitch of how he struck out such star sluggers as Al Oliver, Mike Schmidt, Willie MccGee and Wade Boggs.

Besides Charlie, there’s a batch of Ole Miss crackers with names like Arlen, Newton and Eugene, all nasty and violent, rednecks who aren’t shy in holding back on threats and a torrent of racial slurs, particularly if they encounter a member of the Negro race. Also on hand are the beautiful babes, including the slim dark eyed, dark haired Anne who is married to Detroit gangster Germano Mularoni, a stunning blonde TV reporter and Loretta caught in the act of making Naughty Child pie.

But the novel’s second main character is not from Dixie but from Detriot, a good looking, cool, razor sharp, fast-talking, affable black man going by the name of Robert Taylor who drives a Jaguar and packs a pistol. Robert has a long list of accomplishments requiring super smarts going back to when he was a twelve-year old city kid organizing a network of drug runs. And as a hotel guest occupying a first-rate suite Robert was standing at the window and witnessed Dennis being a witness to the Floyd Showers murder. Oh, what a connection this will turn out to be. Robert admires Dennis, the way he risks his neck every single day by doing all those flips and twists from way up there on his perch down into that little bitty nine-foot pool of water. My main man, Dennis!

Are you into Civil War reenactment? One big part of the novel involves the reenactment of the Battle of Brice’s Cross Roads. As to be expected, many of the good ol' Southern boys are into war and weapons as hardliners. Even John Rau, the detective on the Floyd Showers case, participates as Colonel John Rau on the side of the Union, one of his men a Private Dennis Lenahan. And, as there was back in the actual Civil War, there’s a place in the reenactment for an African-American – Robert Taylor wears Confederacy gray and is very much part of the show.

To underscore how the super-smooth dialogue from the novel could easily be used for a movie, here’s a snatch from Robert Taylor: “You think I’m the man, huh? Not some local deputy dog, you think I might be a fed, like some nare sniffing around. Hey, come on, I’m not looking into your business, I saw you dive, man. I respect you. Listen, I bet I’ve been in your shoes a few times. You know what I’m saying? I think we both had our nerves rubbed a little. You ask me am I looking for work and I jump on it, ‘cause I don’t seek employment. Any given time I got my own agenda.”

Lastly, it definitely should not be overlooked that this book, similar to Elmore Leonard’s other novels, deals in social commentary and the moral choices we make as individuals and as a society. And what does it mean to be a good man or woman and act morally? Are such distinctions clear cut or do they tend to be just a little bit murky? American is not only the land of opportunity but, as Dick Gregory wisely observed, the land of the opportunist. Not to mention the land of scams and con games. Is it morally right to scam the scammers or con the con artists? Is it possible to be a person worthy of respect, even if you mind is nearly full of psychic trash or if you talk like a semi-illiterate or break the law ten times a day? Murky, muddy Mississippi – for Elmore Leonard’s Tishomingo Blues, as much the people as the river. ( )
  Glenn_Russell | Mar 31, 2018 |
A daredevil diver gets mixed up with mafia-like figures and also Civil War recreationists. It's an easy and fun read. Note Well: Leonard stole the word "farb" from Tony ?'s book "Confederates in the Attic." Now THAT'S a good book, which even though it's non-fiction reads better than most fiction! ( )
  evamat72 | Mar 31, 2016 |
High-diver Dennis Lenahand winds up getting a job at a casino in Mississippi doing his high dive act as a promotion for the casino. While setting up the platform, Dennis is standing at the top when the rigger he hired locally is approached by two gentlemen. With no one else around, they kill the rigger. They see Dennis up on the platform and begin to taunt him (and, possibly, plan a second murder.) They are approached by former big-league pitcher Charlie Hoke (who also does promotion for the casino and is the one who got Dennis's rigger) who talks to the pair and convinces them that everything will be cool – no one will talk. However, we will soon find that someone else did, indeed, witness the murder, and that person has come to Mississippi with their own plans

Now, because it is what Elmore Leonard likes to do every once in a while, let's throw in a little more madness. This is all about the Dixie Mafia. And Mississippi blues permeates all aspects of the story. And an integral part of the plot is a Civil War reenactment. (Yes, you heard me right.) And there is an odd-ball cast of nefarious and non-nefarious characters that are continually introduce (and sometimes unceremoniously knocked off.)

It takes the skills of an Elmore Leonard to take these rather divergent (shall we call them "stretched") concepts and people and build them into a coherent story that actually leaves you feeling sympathy for what could easily be an unlikable group of ne'er-do-wells. At times, it stretches too far; at times I began to feel like I was reading someone's made up story. But to Leonard's credit, even when he started to tumble from the high-wire act of writing this story, he righted himself. No, not completely, there are still a few rough spots – but they are quibbles, the full trip works well. (And I suppose it might be a mixed metaphor to use a high-wire analogy in a story about a high-diver, but...well, there you go.)

Because this is a fun book to read. And the stranger things get, the better it is. A lot of people die. And, truth be told, there is not a single one you will miss. And a lot of people live. And some of them you may wish hadn't. But you will like the way they all survived. ( )
2 vote figre | May 6, 2015 |
Convoluted, cartoonish and no real mystery. A crime caper I suppose, but I didn't care about any of the characters, with the possible exception of Dennis. But Dennis wasn't enough to carry the book. A look at Civil War re-enactors ... they all looked completely foolish. It wasn't a bad book, but it just didn't fire me up. ( )
1 vote AliceAnna | Aug 31, 2014 |
Another good tale by Leonard. I love his characters. Unfortunately, the reader took the southern redneck voices to extremes & didn't do the story any favors. As usual, there were quite a few twists & I wound up rooting for people who normally wouldn't be considered 'the good guys'. It was quite a trip. ( )
  jimmaclachlan | Aug 18, 2014 |
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I'm going to Tishomingo to have my ham bone boiled, / I'm gong to Tishomingo to have my ham bone boiled, / These Atlanta women done let my ham bone spoil. - Performed by Peg Leg Howell Atlanta, georgia, November 8, 1926
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Dennis Lenahan the high diver would tell people that if you put a fifty-cent piece on the floor and looked down at it, that's what the tank looked like from the top of that eighty-foot steel ladder.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060083948, Mass Market Paperback)

Take a high diver who witnesses a murder from his perch 80 feet above a Mississippi casino. Add a cooler-than-thou con artist from Detroit who's out to take over the Dixie mafia's lucrative Gulf Coast drug business. Throw in a crooked deputy sheriff and an honest state cop. Put them all in costume along with a bunch of other "reenactors" bent on refighting an important Civil War battle, season with plenty of historic detail, and you've got all the classic ingredients of an Elmore Leonard novel--except for drama, suspense, or mystery, that is. This is a rib-tickler in the Carl Hiaasen/Dave Barry tradition rather than the kind of thriller Leonard wrote before Hollywood discovered him. As the author himself explains, his intent was to entertain himself by gathering an odd assortment of characters, building a story as they bump heads, and seeing what happens. And as usual, he carries it off with style, wit, and brio. Readers will be casting the inevitable movie in their heads (Samuel L. Jackson is a lock for Robert, who glides into town in a flashy Jag and gets the action going) as they chuckle their way to the last hilarious page. --Jane Adams

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:31 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Warned by the local Dixie underworld to keep silent after witnessing a murder, daredevil diver Dennis Lenahan is recruited by Detroit gangster Robert Taylor for a showdown that takes place during a Civil War reenactment.

(summary from another edition)

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