Marvellaland

Essays on memoir, music, and more from Beatrice M. Hogg

Book Review of “Graceland” by Deborah Grabien


I love Deborah Grabien’s JP Kinkaid Chronicles series, published by Plus One Books. So far, six books have been published in the series. The latest one, Uncle John’s Band, came out this month. This is my review of Graceland, the fourth book in the series and the first one I read. I went back and read the earlier books, then Book of Days, which came out last September. I want to hang out with these characters! Thank you, Deborah, for giving me some cool new friends.

I don’t like mysteries. But I do like rock and roll. The only way an author could ever get me to read a mystery would be to give it a rock and roll backdrop. San Francisco author Deborah Grabien does just that in her JP Kinkaid Chronicles. I happened upon Graceland, the fourth book in the series, one day at my local library. The cover photo of an empty stage with a Gibson electric guitar in a stand in one corner intrigued me. Once I read writer/musician Grabien’s bio, I knew I would be checking out this book.

Grabien’s protagonist, renowned British guitarist and San Francisco resident JP Kinkaid, is immensely likeable from the first page. Kinkaid, like Grabien, has multiple sclerosis, which plays a prominent role in the character’s daily life and his interaction with people, most notably his wife Bree. The story resolves around the induction of guitarist Farris “Bulldog” Moody, one of Kinkaid’s Mississippi Delta heroes, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. When Ches Kobel, a writer who spent time with legendary blues sideman, is found dead of a heart attack in front of the Hall of Fame building in Cleveland, Kinkaid suspects foul play. Throughout the book, Grabien immerses her readers in the world of seasoned musicians. And she inundates us with what it is like for a guitarist to travel through that world while dealing with a debilitating illness. Grabien spends a lot of time developing the relationship between Kinkaid and his wife. From their unspoken communication cues to their sex life, she provides a fine portrait of a complicated, but loving relationship. I have not read the earlier books in the series, but it feel like this development has been a progression from one book to the next. It is a lot different from the stereotyped portrayal of the personal life of a rock star.

Halfway through the book, I figured out the identity of the murderer, but I enjoyed the story nonetheless. But the story left me with several questions. Is a biological lineage really more important than a perceived heritage? And does it matter, as long as you believe? I plan to pick up the three previous books to learn more about the world of JP Kinkaid and his bandmates. According to the list at the front of the book, Grabien plans five more books in the series. I’m looking forward to reading every one. But just don’t call them mysteries, okay?

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5 thoughts on “Book Review of “Graceland” by Deborah Grabien

  1. Popping in to say thanks for a wonderful review. Something I should mention: this is less a mystery series than a coming of age story, set over a multi-book arc. It’s definitely a chronicle.

    And as a mystery writer, I’m more akin to Georges Simenon than Agatha Christie. They aren’t who-done-its, they’re why-done-its. I like stories that are driven by the character, in any genre.

    So while you figured out the who halfway through – did you figure out the why?

  2. Thanks, Deborah , for reading my review! I’m really honored. I love the main characters and how they have developed over the course of the series. You really highlight the creative process, giving us non-musicians a glimpse of what it feels like when musician and instrument are in sync (no pun intended). As for the ending of “Graceland,” I figured it had something to do with family. As an adoptee raised by southern parents who left the segregated south, with a family full of secrets and my own lineage questions, I understood his motives. Can’t wait to read Uncle John’s Band! Since you have titles for the whole series, did you have the story arc mapped out for the entire series before writing the first book?

    • Actually, no; it’s about as organic as it gets. The Kinkaidverse gave me a chance at getting arather a lot of my own history back, but also seeing how things might have evolved had somethings gone differently. So I knew the characters, but there’s no pre-story mapping. That all happens organically.

      Interesting thing is that there’s a metaphor, there: the entire Chronicle is, in every way that counts, about family. Blacklight and the Bombardiers aren’t a traditional family, but they’re absolutely a family nonetheless.

  3. I like how Blacklight and the Bombardiers are always there for each other. I understand what you mean about organic development. I wrote a novel featuring some characters who were musicians, but I found myself concentrating on the mother/daughter relationship of one of the characters. Since I lost my mother at 13, it was enlightening for me to be a part of that relationship between two women. But the characters decided to go in a totally different direction than I initially imagined; I just had to follow along and document. And you have given people insight on what it means to have MS – I had a friend with MS, but I never knew much about the disease. Thanks again.

  4. By the way, if you want to be on the Friends and Family presale list for Kinkaid #7 (Dead Fowers), email me with your own email address. Signed and dedicated any way you want, six weeks ahead of the release date…

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