Tishomingo Blues

Tishomingo Blues cover308 Pages.
Written by Elmore Leonard.


Elmore has been hailed by the New York Times as “America’s greatest living crime writer.” He’s been writing for about 50 years now and his style has had a wide-reaching impact. Even if you’re not a Leonard enthusiast, you may have seen and enjoyed some of his film adaptations, including “Get Shorty,” “Jackie Brown,” and “Out of Sight.” And that’s not to mention the legions of imitators trying to capture his unique style. That style is lightning in a bottle.

In the typical Leonard novel you will find gritty settings, great dialogue, and a quirky sense of humor. Tishomingo Blues is no exception. This is his 37th novel, and Leonard shows no sign of slowing down. He manages to combine several terribly disparate elements together into a satisfying whole. The Dixie Mafia, a high diver, a Civil War reinactment, and legends of the Delta Blues all intertwine (as Peter Travers said of a recent film) to give more plot twists than a bag of pretzels.

Leonard has stated that this book was his most entertaining writing experience.

However, despite all the above-mentioned hoopla, this is not my favorite Leonard novel. I haven’t read all of his books, but I recently read Maximum Bob and am in the middle of reading Glitz and I found both of these to be even better than his latest work…which is to say they are both excellent!

Basically, my advice is for you to run, not walk, to your closest used bookstore and pick up whatever Leonard books you can get your hands on. You won’t be sorry.


Dennis Lenahan is a thrill-seeking high diver who’s just landed a gig at the Tishamingo Lodge and Casino in Tunica, Mississippi. Dennis tells the girls that “If you put a fifty-cent piece on the floor and looked down at it, that’s what the tank looks like from the top of that eighty-foot steel ladder.” But if you’re not concentrating on the tank and your next dive, you can get into trouble. Dennis finds this out when shortly after his move to Tunica, right before making a practice dive, he witnesses a murder from his tall perch.

Then, a smooth operator by the name of Robert Taylor approaches Dennis. Robert knows Dennis was practicing when the murder occurred, and that he must have witnessed what happened.

Robert doesn’t really want to blackmail Dennis, but he does want to test his cool and offer him a business proposition. It turns out that Robert plans on setting up a drug-dealing franchise in Mississippi. He knows a lot about the men who Dennis saw commit the murder. Those murderers are members of the Dixie Mafia, and if Robert has his way, they’ll either move aside or he’ll mow them down.

In return for short-term protection, Dennis promises to consider joining Robert’s organization…perhaps set up a string of high-diving exhibitions to launder Robert’s drug money.

Like Robert Johnson, who supposedly sold his soul to the Devil at the famous “crossroads” 37 miles from Tunica in return for mastery of Blues music, Dennis has found himself caught in a moral dilemma with three immediate choices— (1) to become a rich but morally corrupt drug money launderer, (2) to tell the police and be killed by the Dixie Mafia, or (3), to tell the Dixie Mafia and get killed by Robert’s Detroit gangsters.

Dennis makes the best decision he can…he stalls for time. He knows that a war is brewing and there’s no use in selling your soul until you know which set of devils is going to wind up on top.

Robert and his gang of Detroit dealers are planning on using an upcoming Civil War reinactment (The Battle of Brice’s Cross-roads) as a ruse to knock off the troublesome Dixie Mafia who stand in their way. But although the boys of the Dixie Mafia are dressing up in costume like confederate soldiers, their weapons are loaded with real ammunition. Townspeople coming to see the war reinactment are about to get more than they bargained for!

To complicate matters, the day of the reinactment, Dennis falls for the wife of one of the Dixie Mafia, who has spent the day unsuccessfully trying to bake a “Naughty Girl Pie.” Although the pie turns out to be a failure, the mafia wife turns out to be more than just a little bit naughty herself…

Luckily, Dennis has nerves of steel, and employs the same patience and concentration exhibited in his diving performances to weave his way through the complex maze his life has become.

“What’s at the end of that maze?” you ask?

Read the book and find out.