Music To My Ears


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By Louise

I was born without a music gene. More specifically, the tiny, misshapen music gene I did have included a lot of the same DNA molecules found in white bread and low-fat cottage cheese.

But I’m learning, with the help of three superb teachers. A Seattle-based R&B drummer. My favorite crime fiction authors. And Pandora.

But let’s start at the beginning.

While the rest of America was grooving to Elvis, I was crooning Pat Boone’s “Love Letters in the Sand.” When my classmates discovered Ray Charles, I was busy singing along to “Teen Angel.”

Hell, I thought “The White Album” was by some guy named White.

All that began to change when I got married. My husband grew up in center city Seattle, and was distinctly in the white minority at Garfield High School. He started playing drums in an R&B band at fifteen, often having to get smuggled into the adult-only after-hours bars for his gigs.

So, while I was swooning to Gerry and the Pacemakers, Bruce was getting paid to play Coltrane, Bobby Bland and James Brown. And he wasn’t about to marry a musical illiterate. You know the old good luck wedding ritual of gathering “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue?” I got the blue. Blues, that is. And Jazz. And Rock ‘n Roll.

Hendrix. Miles Davis. The Rolling Stones. Laura Nyro. Lena Horne, Art Blakey. Thelonius Monk. Dinah Washington and Grant Green. Wes Montgomery and Bill Evans.

They put my Beach Boys to shame.

These days my musical education is continuing with crime fiction. What’s that you say? Have you never noticed how many mystery protagonists have an obsession with jazz?

  • John Harvey’s Resnick is a jazz fan.
  • As is J.A. Jance’s J.P. Beaumont.
  • Michael Connelly even assembled as CD of Harry Bosch’s favorite jazz artists from DARK SACRED NIGHT, including Art Pepper and Sonny Rollins. Louis Armstrong sings “What A Wonderful World.”


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A number of other crime fiction protagonists love the blues.

  • Ace Atkins’ series features sometime blues history teacher, Nick Travers, in New Orleans.
  • In Lee Child’s KILLING FLOOR, Jack Reacher travels to Margrave, Georgia because famed blues guitarist Blind Blake died there.


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  • Blues and R&B were so important to George Pelecanos in his Derek Strange novel, HARD REVOLUTION, that he too, released a CD with music to accompany the book. Wilson Pickett’s “Don’t Fight It” sets the stage for the novel. Solomon Burke, Sam & Dave, Percy Sledge and Otis Redding tell the rest of the tale.


There are also detectives and sleuths who favor classical music.

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  • S.J. Rozan’s Bill Smith plays classical piano.
  • Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks listens to classical music as well as rock, and his son is in a band.
  • Then there’s Irene Adler, the opera diva of Carol Nelson Douglas’s series.
  • And Colin Dexter’s Morse likes Mozart, Schubert and Wagner. (An interesting lagniappe about Morse’s music, found by Cornelia Read: The theme music for the Morse series was written by Barrington Pheloung and uses a motif based on the Morse code for M-O-R-S-E. Pheloung occasionally spelled out the name of the killer in Morse code in the music for the television series, as well.)


Rock ‘n Roll has its fans, too, as any reader of Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole series can tell you.

And some crime writers have put music at the heart of their story.

  • Paul Charles, himself a noted British rock promoter, peppered I LOVE THE SOUND OF BREAKING GLASS with the words and sounds of Paul Simon, Nick Lowe and ABBA.
  • David Hiltbrand’s series character, Jim McNamara (DYING TO BE FAMOUS and DEADER THAN DISCO), is a private eye who hunts killers in the world of rock ‘n roll.
  • Hal Glatzer’s series features Katy Green and an all-girl swing band in the 1940’s.
  • And Charlotte Carter’s Nanette Hayes is a jazz saxophonist.


Other writers are a little more eclectic in their music choices.

  • Eileen Dreyer’s nurse characters seem to spend their time in pubs listening to Irish music.
  • Cornelia Read’s heroine, Madeline Dare, likes The Dead Kennedys and the Allman Brothers, but listens to Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez when her husband is out of town.
  • And Ken Bruen’s more-evil-than-evil villain, Dade, in AMERICAN SKIN, has an obsession with Tammy Wynette.


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Clearly, my musical repertoire has increased with my reading. I may not even be classified as musically-challenged anymore.

But now a third teacher has entered the room. Pandora.com Oh, how I urge you to try Pandora! This is free internet radio the way it was meant to be. You type in any song or artist that catches your fancy. They match it – in instrumentation, key tonality, chord progression, tempo, genre, voice quality, regional influences, extent of vamping and vocal harmony, and a hundred other variables based on the Music Genome Project – and create a radio station based solely around that music.

You get an unending, perfectly mixed concert based on music you know you like. And you discover artist after artist that you’ve never heard of before.

Go ahead. Try it. I’ll wait. (My apologies to our international blog visitors. I understand that Pandora only works for US based internet users right now.)

So my questions for you today are:

Who have I left off this list of music lovers in crime fiction?

And who (or what song) did you type in as your first Pandora radio station?

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(Special thanks today to Rae Helmsworth, Cornelia Read, Sharon Wheeler and Andi Shechter for helping with the list of music lovers in crime fiction. Their memories are clearly sharper than mine.)

22 thoughts on “Music To My Ears

  1. Karen

    When I go home and have sound on my computer I’m checking out Pandora!

    My Annie Seymour has an affinity for the Rolling Stones. But in Dead of the Day (coming out in November, sorry for the BSP), she is thrown out of her element when confronted with the loss of her car and, thus, her Stones tapes. (And no, I’m not telling anything about how she loses her car, except that it does not get blown up like all of Stephanie Plum’s.)

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  2. Louise Ure

    Ray, you sly dog. So glad to know that you don’t have to have a green card for Pandora.

    And thanks, Naomi! Creedence Clearwater always gets my foot tapping. Now I’ve got to find Carter’s other series, too.

    Of course, Annie and her Rolling Stones! I do appreciate a protagonist who has her priorities in order. The loss of the Stones tape would have infuriated her. Can’t wait to read the new one.

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  3. Alex Sokoloff

    I put in Todd Rundgren. It made me cry.

    What a great resource.

    I actually can’t think of any books that do music well, but I haven’t read the ones on your list. It’s a pretty risky thing to do, to try to describe music in words. That’s sort of a contradiction in terms.

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  4. Louise Ure

    “It’s a pretty risky thing to do, to try to describe music in words. That’s sort of a contradiction in terms.” Ah, but Alex, we also describe smells, and tastes, and the texture of running your fingers over slippery, moss covered granite walls. That’s equally tough.

    I’ve got to go try Todd Rundgren now, and see what kind of magical mix they come up with.

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  5. pari

    Um, there’s Bill Moody’s jazz protag Evan Horne (I think that’s the spelling). And Beverle Graves’ castrati protag Tito Amato.

    My protag listens to music as she travels around NM (yep, that part is definitely autobiographical).

    Most mystery readers wouldn’t recognize Sparx and Al Hurricane, but locally they’re legends and have some hopping music! KANW is a public radio station that serves almost all of New Mexico and you can go into any small town here and rock to “Mariachi Cowboy” and “Cocktail de Camaron.”

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  6. Tom, T.O.

    Thank you, Louise. I now feel more musically illiterate than ever before. I like jazz, and know a few of the big names, but when I read about Coltrane or Monk (Thelonius, that is)or whomever, I often don’t know one from the other in terms of what kind (style?)of sound they have. I absolutely cannot stand the Stones (but so many very smart and intellectual people have them at the top of their lists) or anyone else who screams out their songs.Can’t think of any other writers (than those you named) and their music off-hand, but other than classical and jazz and big band–all of which I’ll put on my turntable–I’ll plug Bessie Smith, Blind Lemon Johnson, Muddy Waters, Big Boy (?) Cruddup, Burl Ives, Richard Dyer-Bennett, and Frankie Laine and Nat King Cole into Pandora and see what happens. Thanks for that tip, a new one on me. (Does Irene Adler go around listening to Holmesian music, I wonder. . . ?)

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  7. Louise Ure

    Thanks, Pari! I forgot Moody. And he’s such a jazz master himself, he never would have forgiven me.

    I adore the addition of regional music favorites in crime fiction. (I use a lot of my favorite mariachi songs and narco corridos myself.)

    And Tom, anybody to listens to Blind Lemon Johnson and Cruddup can hardly be considered a music illiterate! Have fun with Pandora. I don’t know if they’ll let you listen to it at work, but it’s a great background for answering emails at home.

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  8. Louise Ure

    Hi G.T. Yep, “God Only Knows” may be one of their best. And I’ve heard adaptations of “I Get Around,” and “Little Deuce Coupe” done slowly, in minor chords, that just break your heart.

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  9. JT Ellison

    Louise, a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Pandora is a lot of fun. My first was U2, and it goes from there.John Connolly is another writer who uses music, he also attaches compilation CD’s to his new releases. He’s turned me on to a lot of great music.

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  10. Louise Ure

    Hi JT! I should have known you’d be a U2 fan. I adore reading the musical codas to John Connolly’s blog posts. (I find so much new music that way.) But I feel the same way about your wine sign offs!

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  11. patty smiley

    Louise, what a great post. Tucker listens to Norah Jones, Willie Nelson, and anything Soul, mostly in her car. Luther Ingram’s “If Loving You is Wrong, I Don’t Want to be Right.” Ah…pure heaven.

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  12. Clair Lamb

    Don’t forget Jim Fusilli, whose Terry Orr novels always come with their own rock-and-roll playlists… or Bill Fitzhugh, whose PI is a classic rock DJ, and whose book HIGHWAY 61 RESURFACED is an homage to classic Southern blues.

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  13. Louise Ure

    Ms. P. Smiley’s books, Jim Fusilli and Bill Fitzhugh. Great additions to this list. Now I have to go order HIGHWAY 61 RESURFACED. I’m in the mood for some Southern blues.

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  14. billie

    Loved reading this… but am afraid if I even start the Pandora thing, well, you know, I’ll never get off it!

    🙂

    All my books have their own custom-mixed cd’s – I add songs that put me in mind of the characters, or the book itself. It’s amazing how much it helps if I get stuck or just get sidetracked with other things and need a quick segue back to the mood of the book – I just listen to my own personal soundtrack. 🙂

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  15. Louise Ure

    Billie, I love the idea of a personal mix CD for your work. I think I’m going to try it, too.

    Does it come together as you’re writing the book? At the idea stage? It would also be helpful to play the CD before signings and tours. By that time, the book is probably two years in our past, and it would be nice to be reminded of what it felt like to write it.

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  16. Sharon Wheeler

    Great read, Louise! I love making compilation tapes, and a crime fic mix is very tempting. Won’t include modern jazz, though, which is my pet hate — lots of wrong notes strung together and called music!

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  17. Peter

    I’ve just posted a link to your passionate account of crime fiction’s place in your musical education. It walked smack dab into a series of exchanges I’ve had recently and not so recently. Find them at http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/search/label/music, if you’d care to take a look.

    And if you still want to broaden your musical education through crime fiction, try Jean-Claude Izzo.==============Detectives Beyond Borders”Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  18. Peter

    One thing I like about Izzo’s use of music is that unlike, say, an Ian Rankin with the Rolling Stones, Izzo introduces me to music I had not known before, and he writes about it compellingly enough to make me want to know it.==============Detectives Beyond Borders”Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

    Reply

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