At the beginning of Ed Gorman's new novel, "The Day the Music Died" (Carroll & Graf, $22.95, 210 pages), you get a sense of good things to come.
The seemingly innocent 1950s are drawing to a close. The book's engagingly human narrator-protagonist, Sam McCain, is driving the love of his life, Pamela Forrest, home from the last concert that rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson will ever play. It's a 3 1/2-hour ride through the freezing Midwestern night in McCain's drafty 8-year-old ragtop Ford, but he's enjoying it because he's sharing it with Pamela.
He knows she's in love with someone else. Even when she tells him she prefers Perry Como to Buddy Holly, he continues to love her. McCain is that rara avis in contemporary mystery fiction, the cynicism-free lawyer-detective who refuses to let life get him down.
Oh, sure, he'd rather be the top barrister in Black River Falls, Iowa (population 26,750), instead of the legman for its wealthiest and probably wackiest woman, Judge Esme Whitney. But he's only a few years out of law school, and his future's still before him. McCain usually takes things pretty much in stride. But fate provides one reason for his complacency to be shaken--the tragic plane crash that robs the world of Holly, Valens and the Bopper. And the author invents a couple of other reasons--his schoolgirl sister's pregnancy and the suspicious shootings of the judge's nephew and his wife.