Deborah Grabien, Rock and Roll Never Forgets -- A JP
Kinkaid Mystery
(St. Martin's Minotaur Books, 2008)

Rock and Roll Never Forgets -- A JP Kinkaid Mystery is the very first novel in what I hope will be a very long series. If this novel is a fair indication, we're in for a lot of very good reading for years to come! Certainly this novel is as good as the first in her previous series, The Haunted Ballads. It has both the setting and the characters to be as kickass as that exemplary series is; the primary difference being that this series is firmly set within the milieu of contemporary rock 'n' roll instead of the traditional music scene of The Haunted Ballads.

Now, I could just tell you to go read the exclusive excerpt from Rock and Roll Never Forgets that Green Man has. And you should read it before I continue on with this review, so I'll just have a properly poured Guinness in the Green Man Pub while you read it. Now go read it. (Reynard, a Guinness please... ) That's an impressive passage, isn't it? Makes you want more, right?

As Deborah Grabien describes the initial novel on her website: "This multi-book story is narrated by English ex-pat and rock & roll superstar guitarist John Peter (JP) Kinkaid." The first novel of The Kinkaid Chronicles does share something in common with The Haunted Ballads series in that both JP Kinkaid, Rock and Roll musician, and Ringan Laine, British folk musician, are guitarists. Now, being rather curious, I asked Deborah why both lead characters were players of this instrument. Her answer was illuminating:

I made them both guitarists because I am one. It's my own primary instrument; I've played since my father gave me an old Washburn when I was about eleven. I get how they think, I get what makes them tick, why they get passionate about certain things, why they get so connected to their axes. I can climb into them and live in their skin. It was the clearest road to take them down.

Cool, very cool. She is a rock chick through and through, though she also has a solid grounding in folk music. As a promoter of folk music from time to time, I can tell you both series catch the feel of the world musicians inhabit spot on. Indeed, what I found fascinating here was not the mystery - which I think didn't work quite as well as the mystery did in The Weaver and the Factory Maid, the first of The Haunted Ballads series. What works here is that Grabien has written the first truly great look at what it's like to be part of a long standing famous touring Rock and Roll band. The band is called Blacklight, and like Ringan Laine's folk band Broomfield Hill in The Haunted Ballads, forms the musical texture for the series. Grabien's website says: "The Kinkaid Chronicles give the reader an all-access backstage pass to how musicians work, live, and love." And I must say, she's right.

She also explains: "While each book in The Chronicles has a mystery element, each follows the last in a complex arc that follows JP, with his multiple sclerosis, heart condition and unusual personal history, as he finally comes of age in his fifties." If JP's never too old to rock and roll (to refute what Tull once claimed when Ian Anderson was a lot younger), he's certainly long overdue to grow up. Not that he's unusual for really good musicians -- I remember a certain English folk diva that was a total pain in the ass when I booked her for a concert, and I could tell stories all night long of Irish musos who drank their weight in ale.

Growing up is contraindicated for most musicians, as there are sadly far too many ways to die young. And far too many do die before they grow old; they end up joining The Endless Jam way before they should -- Nicky Hopkins, Janice Joplin, Mama Cass, JP Richardson, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix, to name but a few that died before they should have. That JP has survived professionally and personally is due in no small measure to Bree ...

Englishman JP lives for two things -- music and his lover, Bree. Bree, of course, he met during a USA tour many years ago. For reasons I'll not go into here, he has not yet married her, but she provides the home life that any touring muso needs. That he has multiple sclerosis, as does Grabien, makes being a touring musician just that much more difficult. Grabien does a very good job of showing how JP deals with this disease while remaining a full member of the band. Likewise, she tackles the matter of how JP balances life with Bree off the road and, oh, that I can't go into now as it'd spoil the mystery! Suffice it to say that JP's past will intrude very messily upon the present, in ways that cause everything to go seriously wrong.

So I'd say that Rock and Roll Never Forgets is a fine debut novel for what is projected to be a series even longer than the five volumes of The Haunted Ballads. With a little more emphasis on the mystery aspect of the story being told, this could be the definitive Rock and Roll mystery series. I certainly look forward to reading all of the novels planned!

[Cat Eldridge]