Crossroad Blues was published in 1998, the book is set in a pre-Katrina, Pre-9/11 world of New Orleans, Lousiana and the Mississippi Delta. Nick Traverse, an ex-NFL player turned turned blues historian, at Tulane University, is asked to find a missing professor.
The whole story delves into, and is influenced by, the life and death of Robert Johnson. In the book there are nine records that Johnson never released and was hidden in the Delta for decades. These records would be priceless to whoever could find them; once the hunt is on for the demos the body count begins.
I've got a rule: 50 pages. If you can't hold my interest after 50 pages then I'm done with the book. Something made me revise the rule to 75 pages and in those extra 25 I found the story. Atkins took a lot of time setting up the whole Mississippi blues mystique and in particular the life of Robert Johnson. It got to the point where I had to read the blurb about the book just to remind myself what the book was about. Yup, it's supposed to be a mystery but it kept being a history book. Atkins can be forgiven since this was his first published novel.
Once the action started I was very happy with it. But Atkins just couldn't help himself and kept stopping the story to give the reader more blues history. This kind of thing always distracts me; if there is some background needed then it would be better told during the story, like on a drive to the next town, instead of coming to a full stop and filling pages with exposition.
Aside from that complaint, Atkins has a wonderful ability to steep the reader in local sights and sounds; I could practically smell the spilt beer and could feel the heat of the summer nights. I loved following Traverse into Jo Jo's bar.
In the end I found the whole thing quite satisfying. I was very happy with the ending and it gave the whole book a warm glow.
I've already purchased the eBook version of Leavin' Trunk Blues.
PS - The reason I read Atkins in the first place was because of the knowledge that he was tapped to pen the next Spenser novel. Spenser may yet live on without Robert B. Parker; Atkins was a friend and chosen by the family to continue the series. Read about it here.