Sunday, January 30, 2005

Kid Trombone by Julie Smith

"Kid Trombone" by Julie Smith, Murder and All That Jazz Edited by Robert J. Randisi, Signet Books, $6.99, Mass Market Paperback.

Julie Smith is a licensed Louisiana P.I. and an Edgar winner. One of her series sleuths, Talba Wallis, headlines this story.

Queenie Feran, a well-known jazz singer in New Orleans, comes to see Talba Wallis straight from the funeral of Dupree Howell, Queenie's ex-husband. It seems that Queenie and Dupree, while divorced, were still close, close enough that he lived in the other side of the shotgun duplex where Queenie lived. She believes that Dupree was murdered, even though the death, barbiturate and alcohol poisoning, was ruled accidental.

Dupree was a no-account drunkard that had been, and occasionally still was, a good music critic. Just recently he had written the obituary of a man called Kid Trombone, aka Tyrone Falgout. Tyrone was born into a musical family, New Orleans royalty, and was a child prodigy. Unfortunately he had an addictive personality and wound up playing on the streets for tips, when he was sober enough. Rumor on the street said Tyrone had been killed by a hired gun. Dupree was still looking into Tyrone's death when he apparently OD'ed on pills and booze. Queenie thought that whoever killed Tyrone must have killed Dupree.

Talba, a computer whiz, gets on Dupree's computer to look at his notes. Unfortunately the file she's interested in is password protected, and she can't guess the password. So she takes the obituary Dupree published and starts retracing his steps. Talking to street performers like drummer Freddie "Red Man" Martin and mime Terry the Clown she is led to a rapist serving time in the State Penitentiary in Angola. This man, Marshall Bridges, was the scion of a shipping family who had been seeing a young woman who was a member of a fundamentalist church. He couldn't get her to put out, so he bought a Roofie from Tyrone, who was supplementing his income with a little low-level drug dealing, and did it the easy way.

The girl's father, a man named Powers, hired a couple of thugs to beat Bridges to within an inch of his life. Bridges told him where he got the drug. Powers then ratted to the police about Bridges, and Bridges ended up in Angola. Bridges is sure Powers had Tyrone killed.

With this information, Talba goes back to Dupree's computer and breaks the password. There is little in the file except for a note that he was going to see Mama Cille Falgout, the matriarch of the Falgout family and it's last remaining member. Talba decides to go see Mama Cille herself, which may or may not be the smart thing to do.

Ms. Smith has written a short story with a plot so tangled that it's something you would expect to see in novel length. She makes it work, though. New Orleans and Southern society is so well drawn that the conclusion is completely believable. I can see why Ms. Smith won the Edgar. Though she's written quite a few short stories, there haven't been many since about 2000. Here's hoping we start seeing more.

In short, well done!