Out of the Blues is Trudy Nan Boyce’s first novel, and a promising start to a series featuring homicide detective Sarah “Salt” Alt. Salt is a second-generation Atlanta cop fresh off the beat. A year earlier, she was shot by a gang member named Curtis Dwayne Stone, who, coincidentally, is now the source of new information on her first homicide case, a ten-years-cold death of a blues musician. Mr. Stone, hoping for a reduced sentence, claims noted bluesman Mike Anderson, who was thought to have died by accidental overdose, was actually murdered by a dealer named Tall John. The overdose was an intentional “hot pop,” or high potency heroin hit.
Salt is assigned the case without consideration of her relationship with Stone and without a partner—and it brings up old ghosts. Her father, an Atlanta beat cop who killed himself on Salt’s tenth birthday, listened to blues music, including Mike Anderson’s. The musician’s murder fuels her personal demons. Salt is burdened by dreams of a hellhound, a symbol of death, and her father’s ghost.
Salt is something of a supercop, admired by police and criminals alike, but with enough vulnerability—her history, self-doubts, fear—to be accessible and likable. Salt’s case is bigger than it first appears, and interlocks with another more recent, and high-profile, investigation that reaches far outside the blues clubs and projects where her case begins. Out of the Blues is a procedural with a mythical bent fitting the blues perfectly; both authentic and allegorical. The allegory is Salt’s emotional journey from confusion, the little girl whose father died in her arms, to an uneasy understanding. The narrative has moments of strain—some minor chronological confusion and Salt’s near superhero status, but these are overshadowed by the city, its richly rendered inhabitants, blues music and legend, and Salt’s likability.