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Mirror Ball Man Paperback – August 11, 2010
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Mirror Ball Man works because of its townie authenticity ...(Baxter) navigates a community that suspects him of murder with humor, furrowed brow and an ear peeled for the next song. --Boston Book Bums
(Brown) mixes his heroes and villains ranging from fishermen to poets, police to mobsters, and rogues to regular folks who bond at Foley's. ... By the way, he is one hell of a writer. --Newburyport Today
It's a great read, a fun ride. It sucks you right in, makes you laugh out loud and will leave you guessing up to the not-so-bitter end. --Newburyport Arts blog
About the Author
Joel Brown writes for the Boston Globe, HubArts.com and many others. A Massachusetts native, he lives in Newburyport.
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Baxter is a one hit wonder. When he was young he had a huge hit with the folk song Mirror Ball Man.
That was a long time ago.
Now he is a divorced musician with a son he loves and very little money. He lives in Libertyport where everyone knows him, and most people like him. It is a coastal town that has the townies being edged out by the yuppies who want to gentrify their world.
One morning as he is doing his early morning walk, he discovers a body. And then things really get weird. The dead man was Jules, who wanted to put up an enormous hotel and Baxter had written a protest song to rally the public against the hotel.
This is a very well plotted work. The plot is not so simple that the reader can solve it within the first chapter, but it is not so complicated that the reader gets lost in the details. Details are the only complaint I would make. At times it seems I got too much excess information, when I wanted to find out what happened next.
The characters are interesting. Baxter is a funny and smart guy who does not allow ambition to get in the way of his life. He is devoted to his son, and generally not very devoted to his ex-wife. He knows his way around town and when he is the easy suspect in the murder he decides he might want to ask questions around town.
The townies are varied. Some of them are making a good living taking care of tourists and yuppies. Others are hanging on by a thread and Jules death may have put them even more in debt. Jules had taken investment money from a great number of people and his promises of wonderful returns had drawn in a great deal of money.
This is a book you will like if you enjoy small town mysteries. Or even if you just like mysteries. You will want Baxter to clear his name. You will want Baxter to get another chance at fame and fortune. Most of all, you will want Baxter to find the bad guy.
TV reviews -- and I've written a few myself -- don't require any of the qualities that Joel puts on impressive display in Mirror Ball Man: instantly interesting characters who say interesting things, a storyline that quietly but inexorably pushes the reader forward, and above all, as the local reviewers have pointed out, Joel has studied his surroundings and writes wonderfully about them, with keen insights most people overlook. I'll just quote one passage of many:
"This close to Dock Square, Libertyporters were unyieldingly polite to strangers, even jaywalkers. It fit our self-image of an old-fashioned New England small town where everyone knew everyone else, an idyllic vision straight out of Norman Rockwell, but gay-friendly, with hybrid cars and flat-screen TVs and maybe a couple of joints in an Altoids tin tucked away in dad's workshop where the kids wouldn't find it."
Not surprising for a first-time novelist, there is a lot of my friend Joel's voice in his central character, one-hit wonder Baxter McLean. (It seems there's not that much difference between a grizzled journalist and a burned-out rock star.) Yet it's one thing to toss off acerbic dialogue and cynical observations, it's another thing to breathe life into someone like Bax and, over time, get the reader rooting for him.
I have no idea where Joel learned all this, but I am so looking forward to his next page-turner.
The hero, a failed folksinger who had one hit decades earlier (the 'Mirror Ball Man' of the title), lives in a Massachusetts harbor tourist town. Baxter McLean now sings mostly at bars and bemoans the surge of yuppies and developers taking over his town.
When one of the would-be developers is shot right after Baxter sings a fiery song against his hotel project at a zoning hearing, Baxter's a suspect. Between Baxter trying to prove to the law and the town that he's innocent, and dealing with a possible new recording contract because of the adverse publicity (and a pretty studio contact who's not averse to a round in bed), he's got his hands full.
Add in his old schoolteacher-turned-reporter out to get Baxter, the town simpleton, an arrogant artist, and several women Baxter's slept with in the past (besides his ex-wife) and the story keeps rolling along.
I like music and I like folk music. That may be part of this book's appeal but I genuinely enjoyed it and will buy the sequel.