Book Review: Rhode Island Red by Charlotte Carter

rhode island redSaxophonist Nanette Hayes, a majestic five-foot-ten-inch Grace Jones lookalike with hot style, lives for the music of her jazz forebears. Self-taught Nan is no Charlie Parker, but she dreams big. She performs regularly—on the sidewalks of New York City. Not exactly the Village Vanguard, but it pays the bills in ways that her master’s degree in French does not. Mostly, Nanette just tries to stay cool in the face of the worst kinds of hardship. Recently, this has taken the form of getting dumped—hard—by her live-in boyfriend, Walter.

When her normally messy life is at its epic messiest, fellow street musician Sig walks up, and—after insulting her playing and narrowly missing being hit by a bus—changes everything. Out of nowhere, sixty grand that can’t possibly be legit appears in Nan’s sax. Suddenly she is contending with two grisly murders, a former lover who wants her back, a jazz-obsessed ex-con, and some scarifying cops who are trying to shake her down.

Equal parts tough and romantic, Nanette uses her street-musician smarts and her New York City savvy to try to save her own skin and solve a musical mystery no less a legend than Bird himself.

From Netgalley in exchange for a review

This is a reissue of a book originally published in 1995. Nan is a sax player, with a Master’s in French, hair shaved close to her head, missing living in Paris as she lives in a dubious area of New York. She’s got an on-off lover in Walter, who starts the book having walked out on her, but who comes to show just how bad he is for her.

Busking on a street corner one day and not getting many tips, she’s about to go home, when she gets stopped by another sax player, who she gives a floor to for the night. She wakes up in the middle of the night to find that Sig is lying on her floor, a knife sticking out his neck.  After the police have come and gone (several of them being particularly offensive), Nan realises that her sax contains more than she expected – $60,000 more.

She has a principal where she believes this money should go to Sig’s “old woman” so manages to track her down and gives her $20,000 and returns the rest of the money to the police – it turns out that Sig was an undercover cop and this was police money. However, the girlfriend ends up dead and the money is missing. As the bodies mount up (and one of her lovers goes missing) Nan gets pulled deeper into finding what “Rogue Island Red” is, what it’s worth, and why people are spooked when the name is mentioned.

This is a relative short book, and finishes rather abruptly (the problem with ebooks is that you cant always tell where the story ends, so I was expecting this go continue for another 100 pages or so).  Nan does have principals at the beginning of the book – such as wanting some of the money to go to the girlfriend. At the end of the book she still has morals and standards, but they’re not necessarily the same ones she started with.

This is a strong start to the series, and it’s rather a shame to see that only 3 books were written for the series. Nan’s colouring doesn’t really come into it – yes she’s an African-American but it only comes up occasionally, mainly when she’s telling us how she’s dressed, or when other people (usually men) mistake her for a stripper or a prostitute. She’s not stereotypical in that she’s well educated and travelled, even if her income, love life and current living set-up dont show this.



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