Is Nashville becoming a hotbed of mystery and suspense? You'd think so, judging from these two mysteries, both written by Nashville writers. Steven Womack's Dirty Money doesn't actually take place in Music City it takes place in and around Reno, Nevada but his private investigator, Harry James Denton, is from Nashville and the book is filled with references to the city.
Readers of Womack's previous mysteries are familiar with Denton, a middle-aged investigative reporter-turned-private investigator who solves his cases with guile and persistence rather than violence or marksmanship.
Denton's story begins as he is traveling west to be with a former girlfriend who is about to have his baby. Along the way, he is robbed by a pair of redneck road warriors who send him packing to a small town hospital where he meets a striking redhead who drives him into Reno and into the arms of his former girlfriend.
While visiting his ex and waiting for the baby to be born, Denton gets roped into going undercover at the Mustang Ranch, a world-famous house of prostitution, to gather evidence of a money laundering operation. A murder takes place at the brothel, and Denton is taken into custody by police as the prime suspect.
The remainder of the book consists of Denton's efforts to clear himself, solve the money laundering case, wrap up his relationship with his ex, plant a seed of hope with the redhead, and then get the heck back to Nashville.
With Harry James Denton, Womack has created one of the most interesting detectives to surface in a long time. Denton is no slug 'em, cuff 'em up, and toss 'em into the slammer detective. He is a man with serious issues. Although he has a former girlfriend, flirts with the redhead, and is attracted to one of the prostitutes at the bordello, he seems to have problems with intimacy.
Womack is an excellent writer who knows how to merge character with plot, and fact with fantasy. Fans of Harry James Denton will hope to see him again and again. In Fall to Pieces, Cecelia Tishy's detective is a former cop reporter named Kate Banning who gets trapped into working as an investigator for a country singer whose life has been threatened by a series of suspicious accidents. It's Banning's job to find out who wants the singer dead and why.
This mystery takes place in Nashville, and it is filled with references to the music industry. Tishy's writing is crisp, and her character development is excellent. She doesn't tell you who Kate Banning is she shows you in bits and pieces. Her research is off the mark on occasion (the Jordanaires provided background vocals for Elvis and were not his sidemen), but those are minor errors. Tishy is an English professor at Vanderbilt University, and her occasional missteps in the dirty world of country music can be overlooked.
Female detectives have become a staple of mystery novels, but Kate Banning is unique in many ways. She provides a female perspective on issues that previously have been the sole preserve of males.
I cannot recall ever suggesting that readers tackle two novels, one right after the other, but I am doing so in this case. Even better, I recommend that readers begin a letter writing campaign directed at Womack and Tishy. Somehow they need to figure out a way to get Kate Banning and Harry James Denton together in the same book, perhaps as investigative opponents. One thing is for certain: Kate Banning could help Harry James Denton with those intimacy issues.
Nashville writer James L. Dickerson is the author of a history about women in the music industry, Women on Top (Watson-Guptill), and a true-crime mystery, Dixie's Dirty Secret (M.