Reviewed by DAVID L. VINEYARD:         

LISA TURNER – A Little Death in Dixie. Bell Bridge Books, trade paperback, June 2010.

    Cops like me won’t admit it out loud, but a lot of us believe murder has its right time and proper reason. Especially in Memphis, where Elvis died, Dr. King was assassinated and the blues were born out of pride, anger and need. There’s a timetable. Shit has its own schedule.

LISA TURNER A Little Death in Dixie

    Knifings happen on Friday night. Shootings on Saturday night. The streetlights come up and the shooting begins. Monday mornings? It’s road rage if I-240 backs up and people get a chance to look each other in the eye.

    Count on multiple killings the week of a full moon or any day the temperature breaks a hundred degrees and air conditioners give out and die. That’s when murder happens. The calls come in. The squad responds.

    But Saturday morning is different. People shouldn’t kill each other on Saturday morning. They should mow their lawns and pick up groceries. Murder ain’t your proper Saturday morning activity.

    Except in Memphis. In Memphis you can commit murder any Saturday morning you like.

    Mysteries set in the South invariably indulge in what I call Southern Gothic, a mix of jazz riffs, blues, country western music, Ante Bellum atmosphere, eccentric characters, and police caught between violent rednecks, distrustful minorities, political corruption, the conflict between the Old and New South, and a sprinkling of exotic crime and Elvis impersonators.

    When the setting for the novel is Memphis you have to expect all of the above. Detective Sergeant Billy Able has just caught a homicide, an elderly black man, Mr. Tuggle, lying in a bed of marigolds outside his clapboard house, shot by his mentally impaired wife. It’s a humid August day ( “Hot, flat, tornado bait.”), but then it is always summer in Southern mysteries it seems.

    Able is a thirty-something Mississippian with “the good looks of the Southern aristocracy gone to seed,” and teamed up with dapper slightly burned out, recently divorced, Lou Nevers, who objects to Billy’s second hand suits, and is behaving erratically.

    Buck Overton is a Criminal Court judge with a taste for horses and croquet ( “He believed the only true crime a man could commit was to get caught.”) who requests Billy Able’s and Lou Nevers look into a missing person case involving Sophia Dupree, an old flame of Billy’s.

    Overton has ties with the dapper Nevers who is headed for a wall at top speed and might take others with him:

    “Please tell me this craziness is about a woman. We can fix that.”

    “A woman.” Lou chuckled. “You always want an easy answer. If the ball ain’t down the middle of the plate, you can’t see it coming.”

    Meanwhile Billy meets Sophia’s sister Mercy Snow and begins to put together the ties between Buck Overton and Sophia, and why Sophia might decide to disappear, especially when a woman found in the river is mistakenly reported as being her.

    Exactly how all this comes together, along with Lou Nevers borderline nervous breakdown, is the bulk of Lisa Turner’s novel, which does a Southern variation on the eccentric Joe Waumbaugh style cop novel.

    A Little Death in Dixie has some (I presume) first novel problems, and the plot is a bit transparent — you’ll likely figure out what is going on well ahead of the characters, but the writing isn’t bad, and needs only a little paring of overused TV cop cliches to be first rate.

    Billy Able is an attractive protagonist, and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of him and Turner if she continues to be this good and is able to up the ante a little.

    She does the Memphis background well, and she has done her research regarding the police and the way they think and act. But what she needs is a bit more depth in the plot and the characters and a little less of the feel of an episode of an above average cop show.

    There is promise here, and even as it stands, A Little Death in Dixie is entertaining. With a little work Billy Able might graduate to a character to watch out for.