Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Book recommendation: "Blue Monday"

I stumbled upon a little gem in the Half Price Books clearance section recently, a novel called "Blue Monday" by a Missouri author named Harper Barnes. Although Barnes is from St. Louis, "Blue Monday" is all about Kansas City, baby, when Kansas City was the place to be - the mid-1930s.

The novel gives a fictionalized account of a real historical event, the suspicious death of band leader Bennie Moten, who died on an operating table in KC during a simple tonsillectomy. The main character is a white reporter at a third-rate Kansas City newspaper who frequents in the African-American wonderland that was 18th and Vine, where Moten and other jazz legends, including Charlie Parker, Big Joe Turner, Count Basie and dozens more, cut their teeth. The book also takes place during the time of gangster Johnny Lazia, developer J.C. Nichols and Senator Harry Truman, who all contribute to the back story, and hanging above it all is the ever-looming presence of Tom Pendergast, who pulls the strings from City Hall to Ward Parkway to 18th and Vine and all points in between.

I've tried to read the Pendergast biography "Tom's Town," but I couldn't slog through it. (I bought it for nearly forty dollars to try to impress a girl. I guess it worked. We've been married almost nine years. That's a story for another time.) Maybe I'll pick up "Tom's Town" again down the road. But for now, "Blue Monday" is giving me a realistic and vivid insight into Kansas City history.

If you can find a copy of the short-print novel, published in 1991 by a local press, buy it. The link above is to the Amazon page for the book. Here's a good start to a soundtrack for your reading experience.

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