Skip to main content

Highway 61 Resurfaced


Highway 61 Resurfaced

The very first scene in HIGHWAY 61 RESURFACED involves a Labrador
retriever. More than that you really don't need to know, other than
perhaps the scene also involves peanut butter --- no, that's too
much information. Suffice it to say that the first scene is
hilarious beyond words, and just leave it at that.

The initial scene of any book tends to be emblematic (mostly
because this is what readers read when they are going through the
bookstore). But the Labrador retriever scene is even more so, and
that's saying something, because HIGHWAY 61 RESURFACED is not
really a "dog book." It is, emphatically, a "cat book." One of the
main characters is an ever-so-reluctantly rescued feline, a kitten
with the sobriquet "Crusty Boogers," named after its serious,
chronic, and permanent sinus infection. But that's another issue

No, the bit with the Labrador retriever is important because the
book itself is not too much dissimilar from a large, friendly,
overbearing, clumsy dog. Although HIGHWAY 61 RESURFACED --- like
the Lab itself --- has many sterling qualities, it is a big sloppy
mess of a book. It is endearing enough and eager to please, but it
tends to lumber around a bit, and is never what you would call
subtle or overly averse to knocking cups off of coffee

HIGHWAY 61 RESURFACED is in the tradition of Carl Hiaasen (who
writes a back-cover blurb), but it's in an entirely different
world. Its hero is Rick Shannon, full-time DJ for the last
independent radio station in Vicksburg, Mississippi (and maybe in
the entire world, by the time you read this). Shannon also heads
Rockin' Vestigations, for which he investigates cheating husbands
and solves musical mysteries.

At issue here is the fate of a long-lost blues recording --- a lost
piece of the Mississippi past, on reel-to-reel. The tape --- if it
exists --- has been sitting in the back of someone's safe deposit
box for fifty years. If it can be found, digitally remastered,
released on a CD, and sold at an independent record store near you,
it is worth quite a few nickels. The recording --- known by blues
historians everywhere as the "Blind, Crippled, and Crazy sessions,"
after the nicknames of the artists who created them --- is
somewhere out there on Highway 61, and Rick Shannon is the one
who's hired to help find it.

The Shannon character isn't especially interesting or compelling,
unfortunately. But at least he's not that bright, either, which
helps to move the story along. Also looking for the Blind, Crippled
and Crazy sessions --- this book is nothing if not politically
incorrect, joyfully so --- is an ex-convict named Clarence who has
his own interest in getting his hands on the tapes, and maybe on
the blues musicians who recorded them.

HIGHWAY 61 RESURFACED is much more of a dark comedy than a mystery,
which matches up well with the talents of author Bill Fitzhugh.
Outside of the hilarious first few chapters, most of the laughs
come from the incompetence of a hit man, who suffers through the
sort of indignities that similar characters suffer through in
Hiaasen novels. Fitzhugh also sets up something of a love interest
for Shannon, who is more than a little incompetent in this area
himself. But it's really more about music than anything else, and
the reader is treated to long disquisitions on the history and
theory of the blues, from Robert Johnson selling his soul to the
devil at a dusty crossroads to the appropriation of blues music by
generations of white rock musicians.

This is a hard book to dislike, and it's probably best not even to
try. It's a pleasant trip crisscrossing the rural back roads of
Mississippi, with some good music on the radio and a wheezing cat
in the back seat. If this sounds at all like a trip you'd like to
take, then by all means, go.

Highway 61 Resurfaced
by Bill Fitzhugh

  • Publication Date: April 12, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0060597615
  • ISBN-13: 9780060597610