Clues to My Crime: Bill Loehfelm, THE DEVIL’S MUSE

Mystery Month 2017In “The Clues to My Crime,” authors explain the influences behind their latest works of crime fiction. In this installment, Bill Loehfelm (Let the Devil Out, Doing the Devil’s Work, The Devil in Her Way, The Devil She Knows) tells us about the New Orleans locales and music that inspired The Devil’s Muse, the latest book in his Maureen Coughlin series, out in July.

 

 

One thing I’ve tried to do with the Maureen Coughlin series is take readers outside the New Orleans everybody knows. The world knows about Bourbon Street and the Superdome; they know about gumbo and voodoo and streetcars (though they insist on calling them trolleys). Like all great cities, New Orleans has its hidden or, if not secret, at least lesser-known treasures. Even though this summer’s new Maureen Coughlin book, The Devil’s Muse happens during Mardi Gras, one of the best-known celebrations in the world, I hope that book shows another side of the holiday that people know and think less about.

 

Cafe Negril

FRENCHMEN STREET: The previous Maureen book, Let the Devil Out, opens with Maureen stalking a troublemaker in a Frenchmen Street bar called d.b.a in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, the first neighborhood downriver from the French Quarter. The first few blocks of Frenchmen were, until a few years ago, one of the city’s best-kept secrets, where bars and clubs like the Spotted Cat (a favorite of Maureen’s, where she likes to watch the swing dancers and bands like Meschiya Lake & the Little Big Horns), the Blue Nile, Café Negril, Three Muses, and Snug Harbor offer live music from early in the evening until late into the night. The music is most often home grown: funk, several varieties of jazz, blues, and brass band music. The strip is also popular with buskers, including a brass band that plays on the corner, a unit where many of the city’s young horn players hone their chops. Several key scenes from throughout the series, involving characters like Dice, the runaway street kid with a secret, and precocious snare drummer-in-training Marques Greer, take place on this stretch of Frenchman Street.

 

AUDUBON PARK: Another setting I’ve used in the series, especially in Let the Devil Out, is Audubon Park, the large uptown park full of live oaks across St. Charles Avenue from Tulane and Loyola Universities. The park features a circular track that takes runners like Maureen (and bikers and skaters and dog walkers, et al.) around the park’s duck- and turtle-filled lagoon.

 

Trombone Shorty

TROMBONE SHORTY: In Let the Devil Out, Maureen runs while listening to one of her favorite local bands, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue. Bandleader, horn player, and vocalist Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, a fixture on the New Orleans music scene since he was six-years old (hence the nickname), is a member of the prolific Andrews family, rooted in the Treme neighborhood. He’s the grandson of singer Jessie Hill. Shorty’s older brother James Andrews is a noted singer and trumpet player, and Shorty’s cousin, Glen David Andrews, is a singer and horn player whose famous high-energy act covers everything from jazz to gospel. One of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, Treme was also a main neighborhood for free people of color in New Orleans. It is still considered the heart of Creole culture and has always been an incubator for New Orleans music producing such artists as jazz drummer Shannon Powell, trumpet player and bandleader Kermit Ruffins, the Rebirth Brass Band, and the Treme Brass Band, which performs at d.b.a on Frenchmen Street once a week. So, in New Orleans, it’s not just the track in Audubon Park that runs in a circle.

Bill Loehfelm is the author of Let the Devil Out, Doing the Devil’s Work, The Devil in Her Way, The Devil She Knows, Bloodroot, and Fresh Kills. He lives in New Orleans with his wife, the writer A. C. Lambeth, and plays drums in a rock-’n’-roll band.

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