Skip to main content

The Blues Don't Care


The Blues Don't Care

Paul D. Marks is a multiple-award-winning author whose latest novel, THE BLUES DON’T CARE, is a striking illustration of the talent that has brought him those honors. It’s the first entry in what promises to be an entertaining and thoughtful series --- mysteries that not only have the requisite twists, turns, surprises and reveals, but also offer a penetrating look into our ubiquitous all-too-human flaws: greed, corruption, fear of the “other” and, especially, racism.
The novel is set in World War II-era Los Angeles. The protagonist is a troubled, supremely talented, extraordinarily intelligent mixed-up and messed-up young man named Bobby Saxon. Bobby wants more than anything in the world to be a jazz pianist in a ’40s-era big swing band. He gets that opportunity when he visits and “sits in” with an excellent band led by one Booker “Boom Boom” Taylor. The band is a perfect representation of the de facto segregation of the era. It’s a “colored” band. And if Bobby is ever going to be accepted into the group, he quickly must prove his musical bona fides.

"This is a fascinating exploration of the cultural and social realities --- fear, anger and bigotry --- that characterized wartime Los Angeles."

He is invited to play a gig with the band on a big boat with a huge ballroom. Though the band is a product of segregation, the boat’s parties are frequented by wealthy people both black and white. On a break, he overhears a loud argument between a very outspoken and embittered band member named James Christmas and a rich-looking white man, Hans Dietrich. Dietrich’s side of the confrontation seems to indicate that he is a practiced Nazi propagandist, and the target of his hateful wrath is James.

Mutual hatred and the inevitable physical confrontation ensue. Hours later, Dietrich is discovered hanging from the rafters. He has been lynched. James goes to prison.
Booker thinks that James is innocent, but he can’t investigate the crime himself because he is black. A white police force would have nothing to do with him and would remain perfectly content with James’ conviction without regard to the question of his guilt or innocence. So Booker recruits Bobby to investigate the murder and declares that if Bobby can somehow clear James, he will be the band’s pianist. Bobby can’t resist the offer, even though he is a weak, skinny kid, totally ignorant of all things crime-related.
So the plot and the mystery unfold as Bobby searches for the real murderer. But the author’s surprises start early and hit hard. About a fifth of the way through the novel, we make a shocking discovery that I, for one, never saw coming --- even though Marks had given us several hints that I completely overlooked.
This is a fascinating exploration of the cultural and social realities --- fear, anger and bigotry --- that characterized wartime Los Angeles. In that world, black people, even black stars and celebrities, were second- or third- or thousandth-class semi-citizens. In THE BLUES DON’T CARE, Bobby is smack-dab in the middle of it all, learning the hard way the hardcore issues that characterized and plagued American life and American lives in the 1940s and are, to say the least, still plaguing us in the 2020s. Bobby suffers through those kinds of indignities and dangers as he investigates the imprisonment of an innocent black man. He faces life-threatening situations and enemies wherever he goes, all the while trying desperately to figure out exactly who he is and what kind of person he wants to be.
THE BLUES DON’T CARE is a historical, noir-ish mystery novel that delves deeply into the realities of a terrible time in America. Those realities still afflict us just as fiercely today, and we would do well to finally face them head-on and deal with them once and for all, this time with the seriousness they demand. As the pictures that Marks paints in this book suggest, we simply can no longer afford the ugly twin luxuries of complicity and apathy.

Reviewed by Jack Kramer on June 12, 2020

The Blues Don't Care
by Paul D. Marks