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The Day the Music Died

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Buddy Holly's plane just went down. But for P.I. Sam McCain, bad news hits even closer to home. A local couple turns up dead, and the investigation teaches him that behind the white picket fences of smalltown Iowa, there's a flip side to the American dream. Buddy Holly's plane just went down. But for P.I. Sam McCain, bad news hits even closer to home. A local couple turns up dead, and the investigation teaches him that behind the white picket fences of smalltown Iowa, there's a flip side to the American dream.


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Buddy Holly's plane just went down. But for P.I. Sam McCain, bad news hits even closer to home. A local couple turns up dead, and the investigation teaches him that behind the white picket fences of smalltown Iowa, there's a flip side to the American dream. Buddy Holly's plane just went down. But for P.I. Sam McCain, bad news hits even closer to home. A local couple turns up dead, and the investigation teaches him that behind the white picket fences of smalltown Iowa, there's a flip side to the American dream.

30 review for The Day the Music Died

  1. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    This is the first in a mystery series, featuring lawyer Sam McCain, who lives in the small town of Black River Falls, Iowa. It is 1959 and the book begins with Sam and the girl he yearns after, Pamela, watching Buddy Holly on the show which would prove to be his last. If you are a fan of Buddy Holly, then let me just warn you that McCain’s love of rock and roll is something that is mentioned in passing only and to set the scene; Holly himself does not feature in the novel. Each book in the serie This is the first in a mystery series, featuring lawyer Sam McCain, who lives in the small town of Black River Falls, Iowa. It is 1959 and the book begins with Sam and the girl he yearns after, Pamela, watching Buddy Holly on the show which would prove to be his last. If you are a fan of Buddy Holly, then let me just warn you that McCain’s love of rock and roll is something that is mentioned in passing only and to set the scene; Holly himself does not feature in the novel. Each book in the series has the name of a song as the book title and that is more to show the year it is set than anything else. I only say this as many reviews, especially in the States, take great umbrage with the author getting facts wrong. I am not a Buddy Holly fan myself, but the date given as the date of his last show seems to match that I have looked up and, in any case, it is not important to the plot. McCain is a small town lawyer, in a town which has too many lawyers, working for the rather intimidating Judge Esme Anne Whitney. This is very much small town America, with two prominent families fighting for power and reputation – the ‘old money’ Whitney’s and the ‘new money’ Sykes family – one of whom is Chief of Police. McCain does not seem to be in favour with either and he is not a typical hero; short, liberal in a town that is mostly not and unlucky in love. Mostly, he is a nice guy who does his best. After dropping his beloved Pamela home (she is in love with another man, while McCain is not in love with the young girl who actually does care about him), Judge Whitney calls and asks him to go and investigate at her nephew’s house. McCain discovers that the nephew, a man who bullied him at school, claims he shot his wife, before later shooting himself. However, despite the confession, he feels all is not right and attempts to investigate the murder. This first novel really sets the scene of the town and the various undercurrents and tensions going on there. It is an enjoyable mystery – not quite a cosy, but without any graphic violence and an interesting background. Two books seem to be listed as the second in the series – “Will You Love me Tomorrow?” and “Wake Up Little Susie.” As far as I can tell, “Wake up....” is actually the second book – although it is a prequel, so it probably does not matter too much if you read them out of order. I will certainly be reading on in this series. Lastly, a copy of this book was provided, by the publisher, for review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Glen

    A mystery set in the 1950's by someone who goes into a rage whenever Ozzie and Harriet is mentioned. I couldn't get into it. A mystery set in the 1950's by someone who goes into a rage whenever Ozzie and Harriet is mentioned. I couldn't get into it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Book Concierge

    Sam McCain is an attorney and a private investigator in Black River Falls, Iowa. It’s the late 1950s and he likes rock and roll, Pall Malls and his rag-top 1951 red Ford convertible. Sam works for Judge Esme Ann Whitney, so when she calls him early in the morning and tells him to go to her nephew’s mansion he goes right out there; Kenny Whitney seems near hysterical, the Judge tells Sam. When he arrives he finds Kenny’s wife, Susan, dead in a pool of blood and Kenny holed up in his bedroom with Sam McCain is an attorney and a private investigator in Black River Falls, Iowa. It’s the late 1950s and he likes rock and roll, Pall Malls and his rag-top 1951 red Ford convertible. Sam works for Judge Esme Ann Whitney, so when she calls him early in the morning and tells him to go to her nephew’s mansion he goes right out there; Kenny Whitney seems near hysterical, the Judge tells Sam. When he arrives he finds Kenny’s wife, Susan, dead in a pool of blood and Kenny holed up in his bedroom with a gun. Before he can get the whole story, however, Kenny shoots himself, but Sam doesn’t believe he killed Susan. This is a basic murder mystery with a sprinkling of cultural references from the late 1950s that had me taking an enjoyable trip down memory lane. The plot has several twists and complications that kept me guessing, and there is a bit of romantic tension to add interest. Sam McCain is a great character and I like his interactions with the various women in his life – his mother, his sister, the judge, and two old flames. I also liked the very bad relationship between McCain and Sheriff Sykes, and think this sets up a nice source of tension for future novels in the series. On the other hand, I thought it lacked a little in terms of atmosphere; it is set in February and snow or cold is mentioned a couple of times, but mostly just ignored. On the whole, it’s a short, fast, enjoyable read, and I’ll probably read more of Gorman in the future.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jim Thomsen

    THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED is a terrific nostalgia vehicle, chopped and channeled and with plenty of cruising glide. Which is a good thing because the mystery plot is about as thin and tasty as a Bazooka bubble-gum wrapper. But its author, the late Ed Gorman, is a stone pro who keeps things moving enjoyably enough, and once you appreciate this debut series novel, first published in 1998, for its time (1959) and its place (a small city in Iowa) and its complicated but connected community, you'll find THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED is a terrific nostalgia vehicle, chopped and channeled and with plenty of cruising glide. Which is a good thing because the mystery plot is about as thin and tasty as a Bazooka bubble-gum wrapper. But its author, the late Ed Gorman, is a stone pro who keeps things moving enjoyably enough, and once you appreciate this debut series novel, first published in 1998, for its time (1959) and its place (a small city in Iowa) and its complicated but connected community, you'll find yourself less frustrated by its pallid plot and its blink-and-you'l-miss-it, oh-by-the-way-here's-the-killer-and-the-motive finish. I personally enjoyed the players and the way they seem to live for living in each other's pockets even as they agitate for more room to be their truest selves in a society so bent on control that it can't tolerate much individuality (usually in the form of private sexual adventure of the kind thar public society can't tolerate). Sam McCain is a young man who grew up in the poor part of town but somehow managed to make it to law school; now, in his late twenties or thereabouts, and is now back home, working as an investigator for the imperious Judge Whitney, who likes to order him around at all hours and snap rubber bands at his face as a way of demonstrating the absoluteness of her power. When Sam is trying to get her alcoholic nephew out of a mess or save the Whitney reputation so the new-money Sykes clan doesn't take away her influence, he's off mooning for a girl who doesn't want him while feeling bad that he doesn't want the girl who moons over him. Or indulging his hardboiled crime-fiction tastes of the time: Peter Rabe, John D. MacDonald, Manhunt magazine and the Shell Scott stories of Richard S. Prather (nice Easter eggs for crime-fiction nostalgists). As Sam reflects: "I was a big fan of Gold Medal books. For twenty-five cents (plus a penny for the governor, as folks in Iowa like to say), you could get the likes of a brand-new novel by Rabe or Charles William or, my favorite, John D. MacDonald. They were well-written, intelligent books, too, despite the lurid covers. Of course, when you told people that, they’d just wink at you and say, 'Sure they are.' Then they’d nod to the cover with the seminaked girl and wink at-you again." All in the wake of the nearby plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper, who Sam had seen perform the night before. This hits Sam hard: "I liked Buddy Holly because he was kind of gawky and I liked Richie Valens because he was Mexican. They didn’t fit in and I’ve never fit in either. So they were more than really great rock and rollers. They were guys I identified with." While Sam is running around town trying to figure out who killed Susan Whitney, the estranged wife of the nephew, we meet a colorful crew of local characters, all of whom feel they have Sam pegged to the point that they appear to know way too much about his love life, or lack thereof. Some of the more colorful characters include Cliff Sykes, the sadistic police chief; Maggie, the "beatnik" girl who disturbs — and pleases — Sam with her coldly transactional view of sex; Ruthie, the infatuation-addled little sister who tries in increasingly desperation to conceal her pregnancy; the Renaulds, a "New Yorker" couple consisting of a "ruthlessly weak" husband and a "pathetically strong" wife who psychologically collaborate on his many affairs, among many others (bigots, anti-rock-and-rollers, etc.). There's a tidily stage-managed quality to the way they're whisked on and off stage as mirror moments for Sam, which is less than satisfying, but the peek inside their private lives is still pleasurable. As Sam muses: "In a small town, you get punished for being different in any way, and sometimes when you sit in a small-town barbershop you get a sense of what Salem must have been like during the witch trials. Reputations get smeared, sometimes ruined permanently. Women get ripped up especially hard. A divorcée is inevitably a whore, and a widow is invariably a pent-up, frustrated sex machine. The modern version of the lynch mob: They hang you with innuendo and lies." Ed Gorman was born in 1941, and so he would have been eighteen at the time of the events of THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED, and it is clear that he loves that period of his life and American life in virtually every passage. If you share that love, or can at least empathize with it because you too feel as though popular culture and possibilities peaked at that age for you, you can find great pleasure in the way Gorman relates to the world outside his window through the world far beyond it. And that gives rise to passages like this that give THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED a poignancy and texture that lifts this novel above its paper-thin, push-button plot: "A small Iowa town like this, people liked to show their sophistication by shunning country music. Badge of honor." "Small-town radio alternates between Bing Crosby records and local news and what they call Trader Tom, who conducts a five-minute show every hour to tell the good people what kind of deal you can get on certain second-hand items, and who to call if you’re interested." "The people looked clean, too—young, old, rich, poor, clean and bright and friendly, even the young ones in the black leather jackets and the duck’s a*s haircuts. They liked to play at being bad, some of the older boys, but mostly what they did was cruise the loop area with their radios up too loud and call out to the pretty girls on the streets, and snarl at any male who wasn’t dressed the way they were." "Her speech is as eccentric as her Gauloises, a touch of Kate Hepburn, a dollop of Ayn Rand, whose books fill the glass bookcase behind her massive leather executive chair." "She had one of those wan faces that is pretty in an almost oppressive way. She always looks as if she might break into tears at any moment." "I’ve never had any luck at all with women who are called easy. In fact, once I hear a woman described that way, I know I’ll never score, not even with a submachine gun and a bag of cash." "Kids were lobbing snowballs back and forth, yard to yard. Scarves were trailing behind the prone bodies of kids steering their sleds downhill to the sidewalks. In a lot of houses, small groups of kids would be gathered in front of the TV watching Hopalong Cassidy or Howdy Doody or the Three Stooges. And moms in kitchens would be starting supper, the smells rich and good on the chill melancholy of the fading winter day, spaghetti and pot roasts and cheese casseroles." "Yeah, he always talked like Iowa City was Mecca. Or something. She was going to run away from Kenny and he was going to run away from his wife and they were going to be this real cool artistic couple and live in Iowa City.” “Just what I always wanted to have. A conversation with my brother about douching.” "If every girl in this town who went all the way in high school ended up in Chicago on the streets, there wouldn’t be room for anybody else to walk.” "I tossed my skates over my shoulder as casually as I could, hoping I resembled one of those ski bums you always see in whiskey ads. You know, the ones with the perfect teeth." "Tjaden has the kind of bland Van Johnson good looks that old ladies like and men don’t dislike." "I sat down. I lit up a Pall Mall. I sat back in the booth and looked at him. And said nothing. It was good cop technique, which I learned at the police academy. Silence frequently makes people more nervous." "I wanted to run out the door. I’d learned far more about their relationship than I’d wanted to. I hated her for being so pathetically strong, and him for being so ruthlessly weak. He was a lot more dangerous than she was. He’d pull you down and destroy you without even understanding what he was doing." "Steak is the talisman: a family that can have steak twice a week is in good shape. And these days most blue-collar families can eat steak just about as often as white-collar families. It’s as if they’re scared it’ll all go away if they don’t constantly remind themselves of their great good fortune." "McCain, you don’t seem to understand. Kenny and I never communicated unless it was absolutely necessary. Having him out to the house would be like having Adlai Stevenson over for dinner.” "I don’t have anything against colored people, McCain—I don’t have a prejudiced bone in my body—but being nice to colored people is one thing but actually having them as friends …”

  5. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    That fourth star might just be because this light-hearted mystery was just what this reader needed, after three successive reads that made me very sad (one just because it seemed pointless). This was a discovery via download; I've now found there are several more in the series (the author died a few years ago). I liked Sam. I liked the folks in his little Iowa town. I like Iowa. This was a funny read in places but never lost sight of being a mystery. There was murder, racial tension, illicit lov That fourth star might just be because this light-hearted mystery was just what this reader needed, after three successive reads that made me very sad (one just because it seemed pointless). This was a discovery via download; I've now found there are several more in the series (the author died a few years ago). I liked Sam. I liked the folks in his little Iowa town. I like Iowa. This was a funny read in places but never lost sight of being a mystery. There was murder, racial tension, illicit love affairs, nostalgia, unwanted pregnancies, booze, family rivalries, hard-luck heros, sociopaths...I mean cops, drugs, all the usual elements. At one point I said to myself, "Boy, he doesn't hold anything back. Just lays it right out for you. No trying to solve it along the way." Oops. A couple of surprises I didn't see coming and at least one of them I definitely should have. At less than 200 pages, this was just a nice little snack of a book. Pretty sure I'm going to look for more tales of Sam McCain.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tory Wagner

    This is a good, old-fashioned mystery that moves quickly and keeps your interest until the end. An enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Marvin

    The Day the Music Died is the first book in Ed Gorman's series featuring perpetually broke lawyer/P.I. Sam McCain. It was published in 1998 but is now being re-released on Dec. 31th, 2013 by both Mysterious Press and Open Roads Media.. Not coincidentally, this makes it my last review for 2013. I must confess that I decided to read this for the title. I love fiction that has a basis in musical pop culture. For those who don't know, the title is a line from Don Mclean's song American Pie which refe The Day the Music Died is the first book in Ed Gorman's series featuring perpetually broke lawyer/P.I. Sam McCain. It was published in 1998 but is now being re-released on Dec. 31th, 2013 by both Mysterious Press and Open Roads Media.. Not coincidentally, this makes it my last review for 2013. I must confess that I decided to read this for the title. I love fiction that has a basis in musical pop culture. For those who don't know, the title is a line from Don Mclean's song American Pie which refers to the airplane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper. All of the titles of the Sam McCain novels come from song lines or titles. So my first and biggest disappointment was that Ed Gorman does not use the music very much or as much as I would suspect. The day Buddy Holly dies is the day this mystery begins but very little comes from this tie-in. More disturbingly, the protagonist Sam McCain relates as much feeling to the death of his hero as to the death of his friends which is almost none. I know McCain is a typical macho P. I. but a little insight might have been nice. But laying off of that peeve, I have to admit that this mystery is rather entertaining if a little predictable and flat. McCain finds the spoiled son of his boss, the judge in a small town, with his wife who he presumably shot. The spoiled son then kills himself. it looks like a clear-cut murder/suicide but of course Sam is suspicious. Here we come to the main strength of this novel. Sam investigates and find himself addressed many different people with different strokes in this small town. The authors strong point is making the town and the interactions of its inhabitants a prime part of the puzzle. Gorman has a good feel of small town life in the 50s and it shows. The author uses some social topics well, placing them nicely in the '50 mentality. As a whole, the characters feel real. Yet individually, they seem like cogs in a wheel showing little dimension. I especially wanted to find out more about our main character besides the fact that he is whining about the girl he will never get...at least not in the first novel. While I enjoyed the novel it just didn't hold me enough to think about reading the rest. So I will never know if he gets Ginger or Mary-Lou. (not the names used in the novel. I just couldn't resist the Gillian's Island reference) Or does he forget about Buddy Holly in the nest few years and start digging the Beatles? I'll never know.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nikki

    I'd had this book on my shelf for a while, and was reminded to read it by Ed Gorman's recent passing. I enjoyed it and will be searching out the rest of the series. Set at the time of the Iowa plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper, Gorman's novel shows an Iowa that is both different and the same as the state that went for Trump in the recent election. Protagonist Sam McCain is a young man who grew up in The Knolls, an area of his small town that belies its bucolic I'd had this book on my shelf for a while, and was reminded to read it by Ed Gorman's recent passing. I enjoyed it and will be searching out the rest of the series. Set at the time of the Iowa plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper, Gorman's novel shows an Iowa that is both different and the same as the state that went for Trump in the recent election. Protagonist Sam McCain is a young man who grew up in The Knolls, an area of his small town that belies its bucolic name by being the "wrong side of the tracks." He's an attorney with very few clients who supplements his income as a private investigator; he's short, slight, and hopelessly in love with a girl who wants more status and income than he can provide. The day after the plane crash Sam ends up finding three bodies over the course of the day. The dreadful local police chief has one theory about the first two bodies; Sam's PI client, an aristocratic local judge, has another, and Sam has other troubles as well. Class and race conflicts play a big part in the story. The ending was a surprise to me and left me wanting more of Sam's investigations. Recommended.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Fran

    This is a fun visit to the 1950's, complete with references to old TV shows and hit records. The mystery part is just so-so but the "good old days", as well as the not-so-good of illegal abortions and racism, make it a cut above many mysteries. This is a fun visit to the 1950's, complete with references to old TV shows and hit records. The mystery part is just so-so but the "good old days", as well as the not-so-good of illegal abortions and racism, make it a cut above many mysteries.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lou

    A modest start to a P.I series. Ed Gorman has written better in other novels.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Sam gets involved with the murder/suicide of Judge's nephew. He asks around about the wife's affairs and realizes the murder weapon was not one the husband had. He also deals with his high school sister's pregnancy and a body found in a boat on a frozen pond being a result of a botched abortion. Pamela is still in love with Stu, while May gets engaged to the druggist. Behind the scenes the plane of Buddy Holly has gone own after the concert he and Pam have attended. He also deals with the nephew Sam gets involved with the murder/suicide of Judge's nephew. He asks around about the wife's affairs and realizes the murder weapon was not one the husband had. He also deals with his high school sister's pregnancy and a body found in a boat on a frozen pond being a result of a botched abortion. Pamela is still in love with Stu, while May gets engaged to the druggist. Behind the scenes the plane of Buddy Holly has gone own after the concert he and Pam have attended. He also deals with the nephew's friendship with a colored football star and their estrangement a year ago. Fast read with lots of historical detail.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Linda Spyhalski

    I bought this book at a Half Priced Bookstore on sale for $3.00 only for it's title. A little disappointed that it was a mystery not directly related to the death of Buddy Holly! It was a interesting mystery and his discriptions were so enjoyable and reminded me of the old detective shows. A good touch of humor made it enjoyable to read also. It is the first in a series of mysteries he wrote! I bought this book at a Half Priced Bookstore on sale for $3.00 only for it's title. A little disappointed that it was a mystery not directly related to the death of Buddy Holly! It was a interesting mystery and his discriptions were so enjoyable and reminded me of the old detective shows. A good touch of humor made it enjoyable to read also. It is the first in a series of mysteries he wrote!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Gintner

    First time reading Ed Gorman. I wanted to like this because of the title--I do love music! He spent time setting up the character because he wrote a lot in the series of Sam McCain. And that's ok, but the book is written about a time in America that was pretty depressing--about how the haves seem to rule over the have nots in this small Iowa town. Gritty, poverty & lots of racial discrimination. Going to try a 2nd one to see if it is a little less tense. First time reading Ed Gorman. I wanted to like this because of the title--I do love music! He spent time setting up the character because he wrote a lot in the series of Sam McCain. And that's ok, but the book is written about a time in America that was pretty depressing--about how the haves seem to rule over the have nots in this small Iowa town. Gritty, poverty & lots of racial discrimination. Going to try a 2nd one to see if it is a little less tense.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Don Gorman

    (3). Welcome to small town America, 1958, where death and racism and crazy stuff still goes on with great regularity. This is a great little read. Sam McCain is a totally engaging protagonist who takes us through a well crafted story of murder, a little music and more with some very nice twists and turns. I need to see what the follow ups in this series are. Big fun.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Alifa Saadya

    This was an interesting mystery, set in the 1950s in the United States. It was a good introduction to the detective who will be the subject in the series. I thought it well-written and it held my interest throughout, but I'm not sure if I will pursue the rest of the series, since I prefer British authors like Peter Grainger. This was an interesting mystery, set in the 1950s in the United States. It was a good introduction to the detective who will be the subject in the series. I thought it well-written and it held my interest throughout, but I'm not sure if I will pursue the rest of the series, since I prefer British authors like Peter Grainger.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lizzytish

    A murder mystery in the 1950’s. I enjoyed all the cultural references. Sam was fun to get to know. Other then that, an ok read. Read for fulfilling Popsugar reading challenge.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Gary Vassallo

    Totally loved it. I really liked Sam and I really enjoyed the references to 1950s pop culture. The mystery was also enthralling. Can't wait to get onto the next book in the series Totally loved it. I really liked Sam and I really enjoyed the references to 1950s pop culture. The mystery was also enthralling. Can't wait to get onto the next book in the series

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mary Good

    Enjoyable. Want to read another. Almost spent too much time setting the 1950's. Enjoyable. Want to read another. Almost spent too much time setting the 1950's.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Petersen

    It's not great literature, and Gorman tries just a bit to hard to make it 1958; but it's great fun and decently written. I'm ready for more McCain. It's not great literature, and Gorman tries just a bit to hard to make it 1958; but it's great fun and decently written. I'm ready for more McCain.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I liked the writing style and the book was an easy read. My problem was that it seemed everyone in town was racist, and yes, I know the book is set in the '50s, but it just set my teeth on edge. I liked the writing style and the book was an easy read. My problem was that it seemed everyone in town was racist, and yes, I know the book is set in the '50s, but it just set my teeth on edge.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Corissa

    I was bored.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Debora

    I enjoyed this short mystery. Characters are colorful, and while some of their behavior may be predictable, the story was not.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Linda Watson

    Rock and Roll and Murder My first Sam McCain story but won't be my last. Sam's a lawyer that doesn't practice law. He solves problems. Rock and Roll and Murder My first Sam McCain story but won't be my last. Sam's a lawyer that doesn't practice law. He solves problems.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Margi

    Eh, nothing great. Pretty boring in fact. Thought I’d would revolve more around the actual day the music died. Not so.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Marie (UK)

    This is an easy read from a series that I would perhaps read more of

  26. 4 out of 5

    Genevieve Bomes

    A great start to the series. Set in the days when Buddy Holly died, bigotry was running wild, and abortion was illegal a man Sam McCain investigates a murder of a young woman who supposedly was shot by her husband who committed suicide. Sam doesn't know why but it feels wrong. I love the character of Sam a geeky but caring young man living in an age where rock and roll was crazy and double standards were had for girls and boys, blacks and whites, and rich and poor. The story line was well written A great start to the series. Set in the days when Buddy Holly died, bigotry was running wild, and abortion was illegal a man Sam McCain investigates a murder of a young woman who supposedly was shot by her husband who committed suicide. Sam doesn't know why but it feels wrong. I love the character of Sam a geeky but caring young man living in an age where rock and roll was crazy and double standards were had for girls and boys, blacks and whites, and rich and poor. The story line was well written and kept me moving along till the very last page. I will continue with this series.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Maxine

    Sam McCain is a young lawyer in Black River Falls, Iowa in the late 1950s. Unfortunately, Black River Falls already has more than their fair share of lawyers so McCain is forced to do detective work for Judge Esme Anne Whitney who represents all the wealth, power, and eccentricities of Old Money. Sam has just arrived home after attending the final concert by Buddy Holly, when he is ordered by the judge to go to her son’s house. McCain hates the son who has always been a bully and a snob but what Sam McCain is a young lawyer in Black River Falls, Iowa in the late 1950s. Unfortunately, Black River Falls already has more than their fair share of lawyers so McCain is forced to do detective work for Judge Esme Anne Whitney who represents all the wealth, power, and eccentricities of Old Money. Sam has just arrived home after attending the final concert by Buddy Holly, when he is ordered by the judge to go to her son’s house. McCain hates the son who has always been a bully and a snob but what he discovers there makes him feel only sorrow for the man. Now, Sam finds himself embroiled in what looks like a murder/suicide. However, he has his doubts. Unfortunately, the sheriff disagrees and Sam is on his own to discover what really happened. McCain is an extremely likable character. He is witty and smart but he is also empathetic and nonjudgmental. He recognizes his own flaws as well as those of others but, for the most part, accepts people for who they are while despising the racism and injustice that permeates the town and the decade. He likes rock’n’roll, hot rods, and has loved the wrong girl since the fourth grade. He also loves his parents and his little sister and will do anything to protect them. The judge is wonderfully eccentric and, although most of the rest of the characters lack much depth, they make for some very interesting reading. Author Ed Gorman is easily the best living writer of noir today in the tradition of Dashiell Hammett. His style of writing is clean and sparse and his characters and his plots tend to lean toward the darker side of life. The book may be set in the 1950s but this is definitely no Norman Rockwell picture of small town Americana. Set against the backdrop of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper and which inspired the Don McLean song, The Day the Music Died, author Ed Gorman’s fifties display all the racism, inequality, and hatred of the decade. In this, the first of the McCain series, Gorman looks at racism, domestic violence, adultery, and the human cost of illegal abortions. Due to the content of this book, it will clearly not appeal to everyone. I have seen criticisms about, for example, Gorman’s mention of the use of fire hoses against ‘little Negro kids’ that, according to the reviewers, didn’t happen until 1963. I‘m no expert on the Civil Rights Movement in the US but there are plenty of pics on the internet showing police dragging out hoses against protesters at least as early as 1960. It seems not unreasonable to assume that, if it was happening in 1960, it is quite possible that is was occurring a year earlier. Still, for those who prefer the fifties without the reality, both good and bad (HUAC, racial inequality, CIA and FBI surveillance as well as up to 90% tax rates, low inflation and joblessness, and a fairly strong social safety net), you might want to give this a pass. However, for fans of noir and who like their mysteries with a touch of ‘liberal’ social commentary, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    The book we're reading in my Mystery Group next month is the 3rd in a series and I really hate to read out of order so my intention was to get the 1st and 2nd read prior to the assigned book. Her's the first one and I was pleasantly surprised--it was a quick read and I really enjoyed it. The "look" of the book put me off a bit because I'm not really drawn to the 50's but it was set in the late 50's and really took me back to many memories of that time. The book actually starts out--as the title The book we're reading in my Mystery Group next month is the 3rd in a series and I really hate to read out of order so my intention was to get the 1st and 2nd read prior to the assigned book. Her's the first one and I was pleasantly surprised--it was a quick read and I really enjoyed it. The "look" of the book put me off a bit because I'm not really drawn to the 50's but it was set in the late 50's and really took me back to many memories of that time. The book actually starts out--as the title implies--the night of the last concert performed by Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and "The Big Bopper". The musicians and their story are not a prominent part of the plot but references to them and their music certainly pop up. Sam McCain is a licensed private investigator with a law degree and on this particular evening, he is taking the "love of his life"--Pamela Forrest--to the concert. Pamela is not in love with McCain but they've known each other since childhood and she goes as a favor. The next morning, not only is news of the tragic deaths of the 3 rock and rollers in the news but McCain discovers the body of Susan Whitney in her home on the outskirts of town. Before he leaves the crime scene, Susan's husband had confessed to the killing and then takes his own life. Sam does not believe that Susan's husband killing despite the confession and is certainly open in his opinion. Later, back in town, McCain sees his sister Ruthie shoplift an item from the drug store. When he finally catches up to her to find out what's going on they go for a ride to talk and they are stopped by the town's sheriff who is not at all happy about Sam's opinion regarding Susan's murder and he roughs Sam up to show him just how unhappy he is. So there's your set-up. McCain needs to prove that Susan's husband is innocent without further beatings from the sheriff, to help his sister find a solution to her current problems, and to figure out how to win Pamela's affections without getting beat up by her boyfriend. Set all these great characters against the rock and roll atmosphere of the late 50's and just enjoy this quick read. I'm really looking forward to the next book in the series.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    I thought I would enjoy this book more, having grown up in northern Iowa in the 50s, but there are several major flaws. First, Gorman is a very good writer and I enjoyed the humor in his comments. But when a writer places a story in historical times, I think it behooves him to get the details right. I got the feeling that he looked up 50s culture and just sprinkled the music, clothes, etc. throughout whether the they were typical of 1959 or not. The first big error is on the first page; Buddy Ho I thought I would enjoy this book more, having grown up in northern Iowa in the 50s, but there are several major flaws. First, Gorman is a very good writer and I enjoyed the humor in his comments. But when a writer places a story in historical times, I think it behooves him to get the details right. I got the feeling that he looked up 50s culture and just sprinkled the music, clothes, etc. throughout whether the they were typical of 1959 or not. The first big error is on the first page; Buddy Holly and the others died on Feb 3 so the Winter Dance Party was held on the 2nd. I was annoyed throughout the book at the references to the "University of Iowa." In 1959, the name was the State University of Iowa and in common parlance was referred to as SUI. The name change did not come until the mid-60s. Small detail but shows a lack of research. Poodle skirts were long out of style by this time. Hopalong Cassidy was on TV in the early 50s; in 1959, kids would have been watching Mickey Mouse Club or local programming after school. There are many other inaccurate references that caused me to stop and lose track of the plot. More troublesome were all the characters who had committed serious crimes, were blatantly corrupt, or were divorced. Divorce was not nearly that common. Female judges and lawyers were very rare. This was not typical of small town Iowa at the time. The plot is intricate and the main characters well drawn, even when unbelievable. It would be a much better book if the inaccurate detail didn't get in the way.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Michael Schramme

    This is a very special 'private eye' series build around a lawyer and special court investigator, Sam McCain, in a small town in the midwest (Iowa) in the fifties and sixties. I absolutely love this series for several reasons: 1. the wonderful immersion into a different time, spanning a decade from the late fifties to the late sixties. The descriptions are detailed, evocative, engaging and realistic. They are exceptionally well done. 2. The protagonist is a likeable average joe, who is easy to ide This is a very special 'private eye' series build around a lawyer and special court investigator, Sam McCain, in a small town in the midwest (Iowa) in the fifties and sixties. I absolutely love this series for several reasons: 1. the wonderful immersion into a different time, spanning a decade from the late fifties to the late sixties. The descriptions are detailed, evocative, engaging and realistic. They are exceptionally well done. 2. The protagonist is a likeable average joe, who is easy to identify with and tells the stories in the first person. His back story is as engaging and interesting as the murder mysteries he gets involved in, and has become the main reason why I have become hooked on this series. 3. There are plenty of connections to the pop culture of the fifties and sixties, which is a bonus for any lover of music, books, cinema and culture of the period. 4. The mysteries are well crafted and keep you guessing until the end. 5. Every single one of the entries in these series is excellent without exception and well worth the read. Give this a try, you won't regret it. I read all 9 books in 2 months and can't wait for the 10th entry, 'Riders' on the Storm', that will appear in October 2014! I hope Mr. Gorman gets the opportunity to write several more before he retires.

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