Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Friend of the Devil. A Friend of Mine?

It’s 1934 and Herbert T. Barrow is a jazz musician on the run from the laws, but he’s a man with a plan. He’s heading down to Del Rio, Texas to get a job shilling products and singing cowboy songs on XER, the “Border Blaster” radio station located just across the river in Mexico. XER is the most powerful station in the world, owned by J.R. Brinkley, Del Rio’s celebrated “goat gland” surgeon, who uses the airwaves to talk up his miracle sex cure. But when he’s not, the air time is up for grabs to a colorful assortment of preachers, pitchmen, clairvoyants and yodelers, each working his own con. Herbert hopes to join their ranks, hiding in plain view and living the high life as a singing radio cowboy. Only it doesn’t quite work out that way.

While driving through Mississippi, Herbert makes the mistake of giving a ride to a hairy-faced country preacher named Stevens, who tells Herbert he’s ten hours late for a midnight meeting at a crossroads. Being a musician, Herbert knows the story of the Devil at the Crossroad and assumes it’s all a joke. But Stevens is serious. He’s got an important debt to collect and though he’s penniless, promises something extremely valuable to Herbert if he gets him there on time. For reasons not even Herbert understands, he decides to do as Stevens asks. Driving down the road at breakneck speed, they push the morning back into the night before, arriving at the Crossroads just an hour after midnight, where some grisly business is exacted.

Had Herbert been any other man, he might have figured out that Stevens was actually the Devil himself. He might even have figured out that the young man he picks up soon afterwards, who seems to be carrying the world’s sorrows on his shoulders, was, well, the Other Guy; Stevens’ opposite number. Herbert might even have put two and two together and realized the two had been compulsively running wagers since the very dawn of humanity. But Herbert T. Barrow is an atheist, and his refusal to believe is far stauncher, more unbending, and more abstruse than anyone either deity has ever encountered.

The road to is set with traps. There is Clyde, his trigger-happy young cousin and his crazed, alley-cat girlfriend, Bonnie Parker. They both know they’re doomed, but hope bringing Herbert into their gang might at least get them back in the public eye and allow them to go out in a blaze of glory. Then there’s Hamer; Captain Frank Hamer of the Texas Rangers, the toughest, meanest, and possibly only honest lawman in the entire state of Texas. He’s determined to put Bonnie and Clyde in their graves any way he can, including bushwhacking them. Killing them is just business, but somehow, his quest to nail Herbert becomes deeply personal, even after Herbert saves his life.

Having been made pawns in a contest between the gods, Herbert now finds himself battling Hamer to the death on the streets of Del Rio. But just as things couldn’t be more grim, Herbert finds an unlikely ally; a pregnant, underage radio clairvoyant named Rose Dawn, whose sneezing fits can level a building.

Friend of the Devil by

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