Crossroad Blues

Ace Atkins shows a fine ear for language and a deft hand at plotting in his first novel, Crossroad Blues, a mystery about the murder of Mississippi blues guitarist Robert Johnson, ”a man who made music like chilled rain.” Music historian Nick Travers heads down Highway 61 to track down a fellow musicologist who disappeared while searching out the ”lost nine” Johnson songs. In Atkins’ hands, the characters are as substantial as a down-home breakfast of biscuits and ham with red-eye gravy. He hits a clinker with a series of self-indulgent comparisons to J.D. Salinger, but the riffs on the juke joints of the ’30s are sweet. B+