Cops, Blues, and Family Dynamics
Two novels and a blues CD release capture bits and pieces of the East Bay landscape.
Green Sun by Kent Anderson (Little, Brown and Company, 2018, $27, 340 pp.)
East Oakland and crime go together in Kent Anderson’s 1983 world, the year his new mystery takes place. It stars officer Hanson, a former Vietnam vet and English literature teacher who has abandoned the rural life of Idaho for one back on the streets of crime-infested Oakland as a principled, savvy, yet sometimes troubled beat cop who lives where he works. The third in Anderson’s Hanson Trilogy (Sympathy for the Devil and Night Dog), Green Sun teams Hanson up with drug kingpins, child dope peddlers, and sassy and outspoken women. Anderson, meanwhile, works in recognizable Oaktown references to give the yarn a little East Bay cred and verisimilitude. Anderson is a former U.S. Special Forces veteran who worked as a police officer in Portland and Oakland and has taught college English and written screenplays — a lot like his fictional officer Hanson. —Judith M. Gallman
Howl by HowellDevine (Little Village Foundation, littlevillagefoundation.org)
When it comes to the blues, authenticity doesn’t mean sounding like Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson, or Blind Blake; it means sounding like yourself. On its fourth album, while interpreting songs by all of the above, as well as by Hound Dog Taylor and R.L. Burnside, the Bay Area trio of Joshua Howell (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Pete Devine (drums, washboard, jug), and Joe Kyle Jr. (bass) frees itself from a fixed identity as a (mostly) acoustic blues band by playing instrumentals that venture into New Orleans R&B (the Meters’ “Funky Miracle”) and ’60s soul (Don Covay and Steve Cropper’s “Sookie Sookie,” learned from a version by jazz guitarist Grant Green). Kid Anderson adds essential organ parts to both tracks. Expressive and virtuosic — Howell is commanding on slide guitar and harmonica — the trio might echo sounds from early Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall, and even Cream, but that’s just one way HowellDevine flexes its multifaceted personality. —Derk Richardson
The Dependents by Katharine Dion (Little, Brown and Company, 2017, $26, 280 pp.) This is Oakland-born author Katharine Dion’s first novel, a drama centered on family and friendship dynamics, perceived truths, and reality. Set in New Hampshire, it examines the complex relationships of Gene Ashe, his recently deceased wife of nearly 50 years, Maida, their daughter Dary, and the couple’s best friends, Ed and Gayle Donnelly. To casual observers, the couple enjoyed a happy, stable, and fulfilled life, one populated with great friends. But as Gene reflects on his life with and without his wife as conflict with his daughter deepens, he comes to a startling realization that things are not always what they seem. Dion builds tension by revealing bits and pieces of the saga gently and cleverly, carefully propelling the action onward even when Gene is considering the past. The author is a graduate of the Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop and lives in Northern California. Look for the book in June. —JMG