THE DYING CRAPSHOOTER’S BLUES
By David Fulmer
Atlanta based writer David Fulmer authored three acclaimed historical mysteries involving the Creole of Color detective Valentin St. Cyr set in New Orleans at the beginning of the 20th Century, and among the characters were such legendary jazz pioneers as Buddy Bolden and Jelly Roll Morton. Fulmer’s writing was atmospheric as well as thrilling as he skillfully weaved together the actual mystery against a background of Storyville and its musicians, madams, streetwalkers and associated characters.
Fulmer’s latest novel, The Dying Crapshooter’s Blues takes us to Atlanta of the mid-twenties and is inspired by the Blind Willie McTell song that the book takes its title from. McTell told Edward Rhodes, who recorded him in 1956, that the song was based on the shooting of Jesse Williams, a gambler that was shot on Courtland Street; and after McTell took him home, sick from the shot, he requested that McTell play the song over his grave.
From this simple premise, Fulmer weaves together the killing of Little Jesse Williams and a heist of a cache of jewels from a mansion of one of Atlanta’s leading citizens into a compelling story anchored around the efforts of Joe Rose, a rambler, gambler and thief, to find out why Little Jesse was shot and who stole the cache of jewels and how can they get returned. The dying Little Jesse and Blind Willie, who composes the song (as the story unfolds) both press Rose, a former policeman and Pinkerton, to help find out why Little Jesse was shot, even though the gambler does not help by not talking about what happened.
A black-hearted, power-hungry police officer, “The Captain,” who did not receive his expected promotion with the election of a new Mayor, presses Rose on solving the jewel heist with threats to him and the beauty Pearl Spencer if he isn’t successful. With more bodies turning up, Fulmer also weaves in Columbia Records coming to Atlanta and a fictional recreation of Blind Willie McTell’s first recording session. This book has the same virtues of the Valentin St. Cyr novels and I found this easy reading which did get compelling. I had to finish this before I went to sleep.
Even more so than the St. Cyr books, Fulmer weaves the musical threads as an indispensable element of the narrative as a whole, and if Blind Willie McTell is a secondarycharacter here (to Joe Rose), Fulmer presents us with a fictional McTell that comes across as a real person as opposed to say the highly mythologized romanticism of say Robert Johnson that has appeared in some blues fiction in which Johnson is a character.
If you want a good mystery, read and love jazz and blues, you won’t go wrong with David Fulmer, especially this excellent novel.
This review originally appeared in Jazz & Blues Report, Issue 291.