Tishomingo Blues

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Dennis Lenahan makes a living diving off an eighty-foot tower into a tank only nine feet deep. His traveling Dive-O-Rama brings him to “The Casino Capital of the South” in Mississippi. While standing on his tower, he sees Arlen Novis and another “Dixie Mafia” goon kill a squealer. Arlen, realizing their crime was witnessed, threatens to shoot Dennis if he talks. Dennis prudently decides he didn’t see a thing.

Robert Taylor, a smooth-talking black con artist down from Detroit, befriends Dennis, hoping to use him in taking over the local drug trade. Robert admires the cool courage and individualism of a man who would choose such a daredevil occupation. Dennis is beginning to realize that high diving is a younger man’s profession. He is tempted by Robert’s offer to make him a front man and money-launderer, although he is squeamish about getting mixed up with dope dealers and federal narcotics agents. Becoming Robert’s associate would also bring him into direct conflict with Arlen, the sadistic redneck hit man who already has good reason to kill him.

Meanwhile, busily preparing for their annual reenactment of a Civil War battle as a tourist attraction, the locals are recruiting anyone they can induce to put on a blue or gray uniform and play Yankee or Confederate soldier. In this suspenseful, well constructed novel’s climactic reenactment of the bloody Battle of Brice’s Cross Roads, Arlen and his men, disguised by their Confederate uniforms, plan to shoot Robert and Dennis amidst all the noise, gun smoke, and confusion. But Robert and Dennis have loaded their antique weapons with real bullets too.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist 98 (December 1, 2001): 604.

Fortune 145 (February 4, 2002): 186.

Kirkus Reviews 69 (November 15, 2001): 1571.

Library Journal 127 (January, 2002): 153.

The New York Times Book Review 107 (February 3, 2002): 7.

The New Yorker 77 (February 11, 2002): 86.

Publishers Weekly 248 (December 10, 2001): 48.