The novel starts with Brandt, a blues guitarist, so broke he cannot make the rent and so drunk he cannot perform. As he stumbles from a failed gig, the sound of a harmonica draws him into an alley, and toward the dark heart of the blues. Burdened by a new feeling for pain, one final gig with his band becomes a descent into horror, and he disappears into the night. Over the next few days the remains of the band and their friends are drawn into the secret, and into his wake.
As befits a novel about a blues band, the language is dark and sometimes jagged, yet always lyrical.
The reinvention of the traditional devil’s bargain is skilled, leaving the reader uncertain what Brandt has actually gained and what the price truly was until late in the story. Although Wilson seeds the story with references to the bluesman’s deal, especially the crossroads, it is deftly integrated, forming part of a new narrative rather than a pure homage.
Each of the leading characters is flawed, on the surface by the similar issues of substance abuse and poverty; but beneath the similarities are unique flaws which both explain the damage and build sympathy. Just as each has unique issues, so Wilson gives them each unique opportunities to resolve them; some must be overcome by will, others could be powerful abilities once the veneer of fear and misconception is stripped away.
I enjoyed this book immensely – even if it did leave me humming The Devil Went Down to Georgia for several days. I recommend it to readers who enjoy magical prose, and tales of redemption.