When we meet Roadie's Bernie Temkin, he's downright annoying to himself and everyone else: a career ghostwriter and "fat, balding schlub" past his deadline on a book contract and surrounded by several flavors of shallow, including, he believes, the aging rock icon he's meant to be writing about.
Temkin's not a bad guy, and resolves with a sigh to do his best. Through notes he's taken in interviews with a dying man—the titular "Cody the Roadie"—we get to know three talented, fresh-faced kids as they form a trio and start making music; meanwhile, Temkin's off to Europe in a last heroic effort to track down said icon in person.
A veteran music journalist, Howard Massey understands the machinations that ensue when talent is seen as a commodity and creativity, corporatism, and downright criminality come together. He takes us into dive bars, backstage at concert halls, into studios and swanky offices with a native touch.
In Cody's reminiscences, we hear a tale of betrayal and dirty dealing. In real time, the icon's whereabouts are a mystery, and Temkin's suddenly right in the middle of it. The plot twists, the pace builds, and we're caught up by the scruff of the neck and thrown into a gritty world where, it turns out, love and talent still matter—but will they prevail in time? The climactic moments are breathtaking; anyone who's ever thrilled to a solo riff or had a true friend will blink back tears.
Libby Cudmore's debut novel The Big Rewind approaches music from the receiving end, so to speak. Heroine Jett is a tender-hearted twentysomething who aspires to be a music journalist. For now, she's doing temp work for investigators and living in the hipster heart of Brooklyn, her life defined by the constant flow of music on her phone and her retro turntable.
In Bernie Temkin's world, cell phones are still newfangled. Jett, by contrast, is a digital native accustomed to processing emotional life via playlists—deeply personal blends of artists old and new that would have corporate tastemakers tearing at their thinning hair.
When Jett winds up with a mixtape meant for her friend KitKat, tries to deliver it, and finds KitKat brutally murdered, she believes that the tape may hold clues. The police have a suspect; she's sure they're wrong.
Trying to prevent a wrongful conviction, Jett relives her own mixtape moments, ripping scabs off wounds, plumbing the depths of love and deception in her post-post-modern world. Cudmore blends the suspense of investigation and romance into an artful mix of her own, set in Barter Street, where brilliant sincerity and blatant hypocrisy clash over coffee and wine, where nothing says tomorrow like retro. She's an artful hostess, and self-deprecating, doggedly determined Jett navigates the absurdities and brilliance of her hipster subculture with at least half her mind on guys at any given moment as she fights for justice.
The battered true believers of Massey's world would be joyfully stunned by the hold of music, corrupt though the industry may be, on the caring and subversive young listeners of Cudmore's Barter Street. Some things are just too good to get beaten down, no matter who's trying—and lovers of a good story will welcome two new Hudson Valley novelists who make kickass literary mixtapes of music and mystery.