"Police drama and mystery...Memphis Style!!!"
Reviewed by RaMonda Horton
Posted August 31, 2010
"If the ball ain't down the middle of the plate then you
can't see it coming."
Lisa Turner spins a gritty southern mystery with riveting
plot twists and an unpredictable ending.
In A LITTLE DEATH IN DIXIE, detective Billy Able is a
Memphis cop who finds himself in the middle of a high
profile missing person's investigation involving one of the
city's Southern Belles, Sophia Snow. The Memphis police
department has had a number of run-ins with her.
Sophia is one walking scandal after another and the Memphis
police department isn't exactly sure what to make of her
disappearing act. The clues that unfold concerning her
disappearance have stunning consequences for those who
happen to be a part of her life.
As Billy continues to search for answers into Sophia's
disappearance, he is led to the doorstep of Sophia's family
and he finds himself drawn to Sophia's older sister, Mercy
Snow. As Billy investigates the disappearance of Sophia, he
must deal with departmental bureaucracy, Memphis politics,
and a partner who is about to go off the deep end. Events
spin out of control as Billy attempts to determine who the
good guys are in a city where shades of gray are the norm.
But Billy, along with everyone else involved in the
investigation, is keeping his own secrets and they could
make or break the case.
A LITTLE DEATH IN DIXIE is set against a backdrop of
whiskey, gospel and blues, Southern Delta lifestyles, and
intriguing police drama. Throughout the novel, the reader
is introduced to an array of memorable characters (main and
supporting) who are all dysfunctionally functional in some
way or another. Lisa Turner's debut novel is a highly
entertaining page-turner that provides a classic "cautionary
tale" of looking beyond the surface if you really want to
know the truth about your co-workers, friends, and family.
The Blues were born out of need, anger and pride. Murder
comes from those same dark places. Memphis has
both. One of Memphis' most seductive and notorious
socialites has vanished. Either she's off on another
drunken escapade or the disappearance is something much
more frightening. What begins as an ordinary day's work
for Detective Billy Able quickly grows into a complex
spider's web of tragedy, mystery, suspicion, and sordid
secrets including a few of Billy's own.
help of Mercy Snow, the estranged sister of the missing
socialite, Billy follows a twisted trail of human frailty
and corruption to disturbing truths that undermine
everything he thought he knew about himself and the people
ExcerptDetective Billy Able
Cops like me wonít admit it out loud, but a lot of us
believe murder has its right time and proper reason.
Especially in Memphis, where Elvis died and the blues were
born out of pride, anger and need. Thereís a timetable.
Shit has its own schedule.
Knifings happen on Friday night. Shootings on Saturday
night. The streetlights come up and the shooting begins.
Monday mornings? Itís road rage if I-240 backs up and
people get a chance to look each other in the eye.
Count on multiple killings the week of a full moon or
any day the temperature breaks a hundred degrees and air
conditioners give out and die. Thatís when murder happens.
The calls come in. The squad responds.
But Saturday morning is different. People shouldnít kill
each other on Saturday morning. They should mow their lawns
and pick up groceries. Murder ainít your proper Saturday
Except in Memphis. In Memphis you can commit murder any
Saturday morning you like.
Saturday, 9:30 a.m.
The elderly black man lay crumpled and dead in the
marigolds bordering his clapboard house. He lay on his
side. The fist-sized gnome that sat beside his head in the
Detective Sergeant Billy Able of the Memphis PD Homicide
Squad circled the body then squatted down for a closer
look. It was August in Memphis, Tennessee, a city founded
on the bluffs above the Mississippi River. Hot, flat,
tornado bait. The bluffs were one of the last bunkers on
the eastern seaboard before everything flattened toward the
Sometimes Billy knew how Memphis felt. Like an
outpost on the Southern frontier.
He wiped sweat off the back of his neck and glanced at
the blue skies. Too clear to be this humid in the morning.
Then he remembered rain would be moving in from Arkansas
some time in the evening.
Billy Able was a thirty-two-year-old Mississippi boy,
tall and lanky, with the inherited good looks of Southern
aristocracy gone to seed. Just that morning his partner had
ragged him about his hair. Said he wore it too long for the
squad to take him seriously.
Screw that, Billy thought. What does a haircut have
to do with closing a case?
The Crime Scene Unit had finished with the body. Billy
took out his steno pad, noted the blood on the gnomeís
concrete hat, and shifted the gentlemanís face out of the
flowers. The neck and jaw had stiffened only slightly, the
eyes turned milky behind the lids.
Billy shot his own photos of the body. The camera lens
made the old manís whittled-down frame look fragile as a
boyís. His legs were contracted into a fetal position as if
heíd hit the ground and drawn up. No shirt. One shoe, a
scuffed wingtip, no socks. Fly unzipped. Penis exposed.
Fingers curled in on themselves like dry leaves.
Billy scanned the side yard for anything out of the
ordinary. The neighborís dog barked at him through the back
door screen. Billy sniffed. The air around the body smelled
like marigolds and Old Spice. A fly landed on the old manís
nose and waded through blood clotting on the upper lip.
Billy waved it away, giving the man his dignity.
A shadow passed over him from the porch above. His
partner, Lou Nevers, could sneak up on a person, quiet as a
bat. But not on Billy. Theyíd worked together six years,
and he knew all of Louís best moves.
Like this morning when Lou started complaining about
Billyís second-hand suit. Lou wanted to get the upper hand
because Billy was mad about the overtime shift Lou had
lined up. And what the hell, Billy liked his suit, black
and summer-weight with a white shirt and black tie, all
bought at the St. Vincent DePaulís thrift store off Vance
Avenue. Add dark shades and he looked like a Beale Street
blues player. He had a reason for not wearing the same
polyester crap as the rest of the dickhead detectives.
Going against type had its advantages, especially in the
Lou frowned at him from the porch, saying nothing.
"You get any sleep last night, old man?" Billy said.
"Iíll sleep when Iím dead. Thereís a wingtip up here on
His partner had lost twenty pounds in the year since his
divorce. At sixty-one, the weight loss made him look gaunt,
not fit. He wore the same kind of short sleeve shirt as
yesterday, the same polyester slacks, and one of two blue
striped ties given to him by his ex-wife last Christmas.
Lou rarely let himself off the leash where style was
Since the divorce, Lou had turned into a private man
living by his own private rules. That meant, in his
dealings with Lou, Billy was shooting in the dark. Best he
could do was to try for business as usual.
"Other wingtipís down here with the body," Billy
said. "Somebody whopped this old boy in the back of the
head. Knocked him out of his shoes. And his flyís open."
Lou came off the porch and ducked under the crime scene
tape. Neighbors carrying umbrellas against the sun had
gathered across the street. They began to whisper when they
saw Lou leave the porch. They didnít trust the police but
depended on them anyway, like children with a bad set of
parents. Some tilted their umbrellas like shields as a
white patrolman moved among them asking questions.
Lou studied the body in the flowerbed for a while, then
unwrapped a toothpick and stuck it between his
teeth. "Nothing more pitiful than O-M-P."
Lou pointed at the withered penis. "Old Man Pud."
Billy grinned in spite of himself.
Lou bent and ran his finger over the victimís ribs.
Purplish blots under the skin shifted. "Lividity isnít
"Looks to be about four hours. That puts him in the box
around six this morning."
"Maybe he was out all night, came in drunk, fell over
the railing," Lou said.
"Nope. I smell Old Spice. He had a morning shave." Billy
held back the manís ear to reveal a glob of shaving
cream. "Canít say what happened, but the manís business is
definitely hanging out of his pants. You find the first
"In the house with an hysterical witness. Donít want any
part of that." Lou squatted down to study the
contusion. "Bet I can tell you how he scratched and why,
right now, game over, weíre out of here before lunch."
"If weíre done early, how about you coaching me at the
batting cages?" Billy said. Heíd been having trouble with
his swing and making a fool of himself at the MPD league
games. Lou had played shortstop in college and coached Babe
Ruth league. He was almost as good a coach as he was a cop.
At least part of a Saturday could be salvaged.
"Hell no. If weíre done early youíre going to buy me a
steak sandwich at The Western." Louís eyes shifted
mischievously, like old times.
"You got it."
They stood. Louís knee popped.
"So whatís your call?" Billy said.
The toothpick waggled between Louís teeth. "The man died
peeing off the porch."
"This ainít no heart attack, somebody hit him."
"Trust me. This old boy relieved himself in a natural
setting one too many times. Most likely the wife cracked
him over the head with whatever was handy."
Billy considered the lump on the back of the manís head,
the unzipped fly. Damn. Heíd have to stop at an ATM for
lunch money. Then he smiled. "You got it half right, pard.
Iíll go with peeing off the porch, but it wasnít the bang
on the head that killed him. What got him was falling face
down on a yard elf."
Louís pager buzzed in his pocket. He carried a
department-issued cell phone, but heíd never given up his
pager habit. He checked the number and winced. "Pain-in-the-
ass . . . Iíll get back to him. Go on, Iím listening."
"Adiosis by septumosis. His septum pierced his brain. I
had a friend who was fooling around on a neighborís horse.
It reared and smashed the kidís nose bone into his brain.
Dead before he hit the ground."
"Hit the ground," Lou murmured. He rubbed the pagerís
case between his thumb and forefinger, not listening to a
word while he stared straight ahead at the squad cars
lining the front of the house. Heíd been doing that for a
couple of weeks, drifting outside himself. Drifting had
become Louís regular thing.
Last week Billy asked a psychologist named Paul Anderson
over at Employee Assistance about Louís trances, his weight
loss and his lack of sleep. Off the record, of course.
Anderson was a good guy. He offered to talk to Lou, but
they both knew it would take handcuffs to get Lou over
"Who paged you . . . the Lieutenant?" Billy said.
Lou chewed his toothpick, distracted. "Peeing off the
porch. Death by elf. Iím embarrassed to write that one up."
"Did Hollerith page you?"
"Damn it, I heard you the first time."
"Lighten up, man. You said Ďpain-in-the-assí. I assumedó"
Lou shot him a look with crazy heat in his eyes. "How
about you get your got damn nose out of my got damn
"Whoa, Lou, Jesus."
Across the street two church ladies cranked up "It Is
Well With My Soul". They sang a hymn written by an 1800ís
lawyer ruined by disaster, bereaved by catastrophe, honored
in perpetuity. Heads nodded in the crowd. Hands swayed in
the air. The heat went out of Louís eyes, and his gaze
strayed off. He bent down and knocked dried grass out of
"Iíve had it with this whole damned business," Lou
mumbled and started for the porch, leaving Billy standing
alone with the body in the bed of orange marigolds.
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