Friday, May 15, 2015

Barbecue? It’s a Mystery

Posted By on Fri, May 15, 2015 at 4:51 PM

There’s a conventioneer found murdered on Front Street; a North Memphis gang known as the Bones Family; and a well-to-do business leader named Aires Saxon, murdered too inside his Central Gardens home.

Then there’s Saxon’s creepy son, Franklin, who’s CEO of Delta Pride BarBQ, which supplies the pork to its franchises throughout the Mid-South. And there’s Franklin’s half-sister, Cameron, who’s this year’s Maid of Cotton, but she's no shrinking violet.

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This is the late 1990s. Willie Herenton’s the mayor of Memphis. Hootie & the Blowfish are big. And Gerald Duff’s Memphis Ribs — starring the Bones Family, the Saxon family, and a bunch of other unsavory types, North and South of the Mason-Dixon — has just been published.

But now it’s back: Memphis Ribs — Duff’s over-the-top satire on Memphis movers, shakers, law breakers and enforcers — has been reissued by Brash Books, which means a linebacker turned homicide detective, J.W. Ragsdale, is back too.

Back to uncovering why there’s a truckload of stinking pork shoulder turned to mush and why the pig meat is hiding this year’s cash cow: coke from Columbia. But what’s the pork carrying the crack doing in the hold of the barge carrying Cotton Carnival royalty at the Memphis waterfront?

No time like now to find out. It’s Memphis in May and the weekend of the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. Read the background “recipe” for Duff’s Memphis Ribs in his guest post on the blog of his friend Lee Goldberg, author and television writer. Find out why this writer from east Texas and former English professor, college dean (including Rhodes), and TV bit actor was all up in some Memphis mojo in 1999, when the riotous Memphis Ribs was first published. Duff’s recipe is a kind of reverse love letter to the Bluff City — a city with some big issues mixed in with good times and a city to make a novelist feel, as Duff once did, not only inspired but, hell, right at home.

. . .

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What’s the secret to the sauce of the champion Hitting the Sauce Whole Hog barbecue team?

There’s no telling, but the secret is worth a bundle to anybody who can discover it and market it. Bad thing is, the guy who knows that ingredient, team member Bobby Joe McLarty, goes missing when he was supposed to be tending to “Boss Hog” inside the cooker. Missing until Harriet, the narrator in “Long Pig” by Carolyn McSparren, gets down to business. She opens the lid of the cooker. No sign of “Boss Hog,” but yes indeed, there’s very dead (and extra-crispy) Bobby Joe, and that’s when things for Hitting the Sauce get more than messy at the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. They get downright criminal, and, in McSparren’s hands, slapstick funny.

There’s more. “Long Pig” is one of 15 stories in the anthology Malice in Memphis: Bluff City Mysteries (Dark Oak Press), which was published last November, but McSparren’s story is a fun fit for this weekend’s barbecue contest.

As one of the book’s contributing authors, James Paavola (author Blood Money, the latest in his “Murder in Memphis” series), said in an email, Malice in Memphis is a local mystery writers’ group, and in Bluff City Mysteries the authors have tied each story to a Memphis landmark — the Peabody, Elmwood Cemetery, Voodoo Village, the James Lee House, etc.

Core writing-group members Patricia Potter, Phyllis Appleby, Barbara Christopher, and McSparren have been meeting weekly for more than 15 years to critique their own work and the work of other members. It’s a way for seasoned mystery writers to serve as mentors for aspiring mystery writers. And according to Paavola, another anthology by the group is in the works.

Have a short-story mystery on your hands? It’s set in the Mid-South? And it involves a ghost? Or you just want to learn more about Malice in Memphis? Check out the group’s Facebook page here. •

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