The Day the Music Died is the first book in Ed Gorman's series featuring perpetually broke lawyer/P.I. Sam McCain. It was published in 1998 but is now being re-released on Dec. 31th, 2013 by both Mysterious Press and Open Roads Media.. Not coincidentally this makes it my last review for 2013.
I must confess that I decided to read this for the title. I love fiction that has a basis in musical pop culture. For those who don't know, the title is a line from Don Mclean's song American Pie which refers to the airplane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper. All of the titles of the Sam McCain novels come from song lines or titles. So my first and biggest disappointment was that Ed Gorman does not use the music very much or as much as I would suspect. The day Buddy Holly dies is the day this mystery begins but very little comes from this tie-in. More disturbingly, the protagonist Sam McCain relates as much feeling to the death of his hero as to the death of his friends which is almost none. I know McCain is a typical macho P. I. but a little insight might have been nice.
But laying off of that peeve, I have to admit that this mystery is rather entertaining if a little predictable and flat. McCain finds the spoiled son of his boss, the judge in a small town, with his wife who he presumably shot. The spoiled son then kills himself. it looks like a clear-cut murder/suicide but of course Sam is suspicious.
Here we come to the main strength of this novel. Sam investigates and find himself addressing many different people with different strokes in this small town. The author's strong point is making the town and the interactions of its inhabitants a prime part of the puzzle. Gorman has a good feel of small town life in the 50s and it shows. The author uses some social topics well, placing them nicely in the '50 mentality. As a whole, the characters feel real. Yet individually, they seem like cogs in a wheel showing little dimension. I especially wanted to find out more about our main character besides the fact that he is whining about the girl he will never get...at least not in the first novel. While I enjoyed the novel it just didn't hold me enough to think about reading the rest. So I will never know if he gets Ginger or Mary-Lou. (not the names used in the novel. I just couldn't resist the Gillian's Island reference) Or does he forget about Buddy Holly in the nest few years and start digging the Beatles? I'll never know.