Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sweet Man is Gone reviewed by Mark Thompson

Sweet Man is Gone
A Maxx Maxwell Mystery
Peggy Ehrhart
Five Star Publishing
245 pages

Maxx Maxwell is trying to get her career as a blues singer off the ground. After making changes to her physical appearance, she is trying to put together a smokin’ band to back her up. Her new guitar player, Jimmy Nashville, is a wizard on the strings and no slouch in the looks department. Before Maxx can succumb to his charms, Jimmy is found dead outside his apartment building. Did he jump – or was he pushed ?

Peggy Ehrhart gives readers an in-depth look at the trials and tribulations of the life of a working musician. She is a widely published and award-winning author, particularly in her specialty of medieval literature. A former college professor, Ehrhart also plays blues guitar and has performed live with numerous in the New York/New Jersey area. Those experiences bring a refreshing sense of realism to her descriptions of the day-to-day stresses of maintaining a musical career.

The police think Jimmy jumped. But Maxx doesn’t buy that theory. After all, Jimmy had six beautiful women in his life and their band was really coming together. So Maxwell decides to conduct her own investigation into Jimmy’s death. She starts with Monique, Jimmy’s glamorous girlfriend, and his elderly neighbor. Soon she is trying to track down several dark and menacing characters in the background of Jimmy’s existence.

In her spare time, Max tries to keep the band together while searching for a new guitarist. Her drummer wants to leave the band for a better gig. Her former guitarist, Stan, keeps showing up and begging for another chance. Maxx knows that Stan does not have a feel for the blues but begins to suspect that Stan may have played a part in Jimmy’s demise. And the body count continues to mount.

Ehrhart does a great job “painting the picture” of Maxx’s life – the struggle to make it as a blues singer and simply to survive. Her descriptions of the band’s rehearsal sessions certainly ring true. Ehrhart also accurately captures the give-and-take nature of the negotiations necessary to keep a band together and to secure bookings for live shows with club owners. The book occasionally drags a bit when Ehrhart takes too much space to explain Maxx’s travels around the city in pursuit of Jimmy’s killer. But her description of the climatic final scene created several extremely humorous mental images that were still bouncing around in my head days later.

Ehrhart has crafted a solid whodunit. Sweet Man is Gone is an entertaining read, particularly for a first novel. The mixture of mystery and music should be attractive to a wide range of readers. Hopefully we will get another opportunity to read about the further adventures of Maxx Maxwell.

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