DAVID HILTBRAND – Killer Solo. Avon, paperback original. First printing, January 2004.


   I was going to start this review by stating that this is the best rock music detective novel I have ever read. It then occurred to me that this may be the only rock music detective novel I have ever read. I know there are others. Unless there are some that aren’t coming to mind right now, though, I just haven’t read them.

   Forgive me if you’re not a rock music fan. I’m going to quote the entire first page. You can skip this and go on the rest of review, if you want to. In fact, you can even go on to the next review, if you want to. I can’t stop you.

   The house lights dimmed and the crowd erupted, a scalding howl of bloodlust and anticipation. The PA system began pumping out strange Sufi snake-charming music that became more insistent and penetrating as it gradually grew louder and faster. The audience, already stoked, got swept up by this swirling, modal sound – hypnotic music that seemed to climb and coil around your brain stem.

   Roadies were leading band members out onto the dark stage, focusing hooded flashlights down at their feet. The people at the front of the arena were the first to notice the eerie processional and their cries of delight swept like a paper fire past where I stood behind the mixing board to the back of the floor and up into the tiers of balconies.

   All the time, the crowd and the music continued to feed off one another. At the precise moment that the tension inside the arena crested, flash bombs exploded, clusters of spotlights began raking the hall and the wild dervish music segued ingeniously into the thunderous opening chords of “Blood Money.” And Shirley Slaughterhouse was there. In fact, he was everywhere.

   Wow. David Hiltbrand nails it, as far as I’m concerned. And it’s no wonder. The brief bio on the inside back cover points out that among other things, he’s been a rock journalist for a number of well known magazines and newspapers. (He’s currently a consulting editor for TV Guide.)

   Working out of Winsted CT as an insurance investigator is Jim McNamara, á la old time radio’s Johnny Dollar, who in his many years on the air may have checked out a mysterious death on a rock band’s tour, but if he did, I haven’t listened to it yet.

   Dead is Shirley’s good buddy, Jake Karn, and one of the crew. He fell off a catwalk after a show late at night, and Jim is asked to see if foul play could have been involved.

   Back to Shirley, who is male, and who is described on page 7 as “the one who looks like Johnny Depp with dysentery.” It takes some time, but Jim, at one time also heavily involved in the world of rock music, eventually gets on his good side, following along with the tour from city to city, a brutally honest behind-the-scenes inside look. Quoting again, this time from page 136:

   … I marveled that Shirley could be miserable when most people under the age of thirty would give anything in the world to trade places with him. … If someone like Shirley can’t be happy, what chance do us sad-sack civilians have?

   Musicians, groupies, roadies, managers, PR people and more, they’re all represented, and they’re all among the suspects. Jim works alone, but since he needs someone to bounce ideas off, he has his AA sponsor to talk to by telephone, not to mention the girl friend he picks up along the way.

   So how’s the mystery, someone asks. More than tolerable, is my reply, with enough suspects and opportunity and motive to accommodate two books, and by the way, if there’s a second one coming in the series, it would be OK by me.

   The ending of this one is rather over the top, I hasten to caution you, including the killer (yes, it was murder) giving a long ten-page explanation of everything that went on prior to then, when the realistic course of action is to simply do away with one nosy insurance investigator.

   My first sentence still holds, though.

— April 2004

        The Jim McNamara series —

1. Killer Solo (2003)
2. Deader Than Disco (2005)
3. Dying to Be Famous (2006)