Memphis Ribs, by Gerald Duff ****

Memphis RibsIt’s tourist season in Memphis; the Mississippi Delta land is filling up with convention-goers and barbecue lovers. They’re fixing to parachute in a couple of whole hog carcasses, but not until after the Cotton Queen goes by on her float. And this being Delta country, the float really is a float; it is a barge made over, and she is much more concerned about keeping every hair exactly where it belongs than she is about finding out who killed Daddy the other night. Okay, actually she pretty much knows, and it was badly done. But damned if it’s going to spoil her special day. As for me, I just want to say thank you to Net Galley and Brash Books for the DRC. It’s been a dark but enjoyable viewing.

So let’s have a chat, just the two of us, about the best way to break into an ATM machine. Never tried it myself. I would never have thought to do it the Memphis way, so maybe it’s just as well I turned out to be more the sort to read and write things and less the criminal type. Because frankly, I never would have considered just ripping the thing off its moorings with a forklift and driving it away to where I could tear it apart in privacy. Franklin Saxon is more suited to this kind of activity. We’ll let him do it, or at least direct the hired help to do it. Well, for as long as he can, anyway; things don’t go well for him up the road a fair piece.

As for our local cops, JW Ragsdale just wants to get out of Memphis for a bit. It’s so humid, so crowded. The bugs alone will make you crazy. If he can launch an investigation that will take him out of town, preferably with a fishing pole and a six-pack in tow, he’ll be happy to fill out the paperwork saying he’s been on the job, been conducting critical interviews.

How sad for him, then, that he is so good at his work. One interview leads to another, and before you know it, the man is right in the thick of all sorts of drug smuggling, fraud, thievery and yes, oh yes…murder. It ain’t so much a holiday after all, and looky here, even the barbecue done turned rancid. It really isn’t his day.

The Bones family figures prominently; they’re employees of Franklin Saxon, recently bereaved son of Aires Saxon. The hard part is not sampling the merchandise.

“ ‘Shee-it,’ said Stone Job. ‘Shee-it. Merchandise. Why you call it that?’
“ ‘Fool, that’s what it is. That’s what we be buying and selling. Why you think we
done made a withdrawal from the ATM the other night?’”
“’To pay the white man the money for the rock. That’s why.’”
“’Right, you getting it. That be the Bones business…Free enterprise, motherfucker.’”

At first, with my political antennae always on alert regardless of genre, I was concerned about the negative depiction of African-Americans in the story. Were we going to veer toward stereotypes here? And what is up with the use of the word “honky”, which I hadn’t heard since the 1970’s?

But not to worry. This little tale treats everyone with equal irreverence. In fact, the very best, sickest humor, to my way of thinking, was the scene at the pork processing plant, when JW indulges in a little fantasy of his own regarding the speed-that-line-up foreman.

Trust me.

If you are squeamish, if you can’t deal with sick humor or gruesome interludes, give it a pass, already. It isn’t half as gross as most of what’s on television, but never mind; the point of dark humor is to enjoy it, and we want you to have a good time here.

If, however, you can read Janet Evanovich and The Onion and come away holding your sides, then this little goodie just might be up your alley. Originally published in 1999, it will be released in digital format May 5.

I recommend you read it separately from meal time, though.

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