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Dirty South


Dirty South

Recently, a gentleman at a major record company played his
weekend's voice mail recordings for me. The messages were all from
erstwhile rappers, all in rhyme, and had the common theme of "give
me a deal." Most of them did not even leave contact information,
and some of them exhibited an undercurrent of desperation. While
not all rappers come from impoverished or humble beginnings,
certainly many of them do. The music provides them with the promise
and, more often than not, the illusion of a way out of their

Music has been one of the primary themes of all the novels of Ace
Atkins. His creation of Nick Travers as a blues scholar and
occasional rumpled knight is somewhat unique. While the previous
Travers novels have been primarily concerned with blues and soul
music, DIRTY SOUTH, Atkins's latest offering, concerns the rap/hip
hop industry. DIRTY SOUTH, in keeping with the subject matter of
the music, is much grittier and darker than his previous work. It
is also unquestionably his best to date.

Nick is reluctantly dragged into the hip-hop scene by Teddy Paris,
a former teammate of his on the New Orleans Saints professional
football team. Teddy and his brother Malcolm are living large as
the heads of Ninth Ward Records, a wildly successful New Orleans
rap label named after the somewhat notorious Crescent City
neighborhood (referred to locally as "The lower Nine -- where they
don' mind dyin'"). Teddy is in a huge jam. His latest star, a
fifteen-year-old rapper named ALIAS who has grown up quickly and
hard, has been scammed out of $500,000 in Ninth Ward Records money
by a team of operators that nobody seems able to locate. Teddy,
desperate for money, borrows a half-million dollars from a local
hard-case named Cash. The loan, and an extra $200,000 for "interest
and time," comes due in 24 hours.

Nick begins beating the rough bushes of New Orleans to discover who
the scam artists are, and where the money is, looking for any
information that will lead to the recovery of the money and the
rescue of his friend. Cash, meanwhile, is quite clear that he is
not as interested in recovering his money as he is in taking over
ALIAS's career. When violence begins to strike closer to home, Nick
moves ALIAS to the Mississippi Delta where Nick's friends, living
blues legend JoJo Johnson and his wife Loretta, have resided since
the events in DARK END OF THE STREET. But duplicity, violence and
double-crosses dog Nick's efforts every step of the way right up to
the book's surprising and cataclysmic conclusion.

Atkins's writing in DIRTY SOUTH fulfills the promise made in his
previous three novels. His description of New Orleans' Calliope
housing project, for example, reads like a travelogue through hell.
Atkins also makes a subtle, pointed and dead-on accurate comparison
between the rural and urban blues music of the past and the rap
music of the present. Sex and violence in music is certainly
nothing new, and both are plentiful here. DIRTY SOUTH is Atkins's
best novel to date. We hope this critically acclaimed talent
becomes a household literary name. Highly recommended.


Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 29, 2010

Dirty South
by Ace Atkins

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Avon
  • ISBN-10: 0060004630
  • ISBN-13: 9780060004637