Rhode Island Red

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by Charlotte Carter

There are some authors who have such a gift for dialogue and voice that you feel like you’re sitting down at a kitchen table sharing a cup of coffee with the characters as you read.

Charlotte Carter has certainly achieved that with her character Nanette Hayes, a New York University (NYU) graduate who majored in French, has lived in Paris and now supports herself in New York City playing the saxophone on the street and doing French translations.

She’s a striking African-American woman, with extremely short-hair, who isn’t lucky with men.  Her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Walter, helps with the bills when he’s “on” and lets her fend for herself when he’s “off.”  He’s off at the moment.

As this story opens, Nan has allowed a street musician she just met to spend the night on her couch. In the middle of the night, he’s murdered.When the cops come storming in, she learns that his real name was Charlie Conlin, working undercover to bust a street musician scam. After the police have cleared out, Nan discovers $60,000 in rubber band-wrapped rolls, stuffed into socks and then into her own saxophone.

Although Nan’s childhood friend Aubrey, now a successful exotic dancer, tells her to take the money and fly to Paris, Nan’s conscience prods her to find Conlin’s next of kin to share the money with. That turns out to be Inge Carlson, an untalented blind street musician with a clumsy guide dog named Bruno. Not long after Nan gives her $20,000 of the hidden money, both Inge and her dog are murdered.

Nanette finds herself in deep bouillabaisse with many people, from cops to mobsters, believing she knows much more than she does.

RHODE ISLAND RED (1997) was followed by:
  • COQ AU VIN (1999). Nanette is in Paris trying to find her eccentric Aunt Viv, who has come into a sizable inheritance. As she explores music in the City of Lights, she meets another ex-pat musician, Andre, and the chemistry flares. which has been optioned for the movies.
  • DRUMSTICKS (2000). After breaking up with Andre, Nanette returns to New York and drowns her sorrows in drink. Her life seems to be sliding south when she’s given a voodoo doll and things take a turn for the better. But when she invites the doll’s maker to hear her play at a jazz club, the night ends with the woman dead.
  • ROOSTERS RIFF. Andre has followed Nanette to New York City, where they play duets on the street and various pick-up gigs to make ends meet. Playing on her own one day, Nanette meets a stranger who is a dead ringer for her favorite actor. The encounter leads to jobs for both Nanette and Andre on an indie film that is a highly fictionalized version of Miles Davis.
RHODE ISLAND RED is fun with engaging characters and sassy dialogue. It’s suffused with a love of jazz and great musicians such as saxophonist and composer Charlie “Bird” Parker, who helped develop bebop.
On the down side, it takes nearly half the book to understand what the mobsters are looking for. The story doesn’t come to a resolution as much as it simply ends.

About the Author: Charlotte Carter

Charlotte Carter is the creator of the Nanette Hayes series and the Cook County Mysteries, set in Chicago during the 1960s. Her short fiction has appeared in a number of American and British anthologies.

In a 2002 interview for Spike Magazine, Chris Wiegand writes, “Growing up a ‘bookish, neurotic, paranoid, unhappy kid,’ the author admits that ‘bebop and film noir saved my life’ and cites a host of classic crime movies when recalling early influences. She singles out The Big Heat, an American noir from Fritz Lang;”Out Of The Past,” a re-discovered ’40s B-movie directed by Jacques ‘Cat People‘ Tourneur, and “The Blue Dahlia” (1946), written by Raymond Chandler and starring Veronica Lake.”

Her stand-alone novel, WALKING BONES (2002) was described by Bill Ott in Booklist as an “erotic exploration of sexual obsession.”
Carter has lived in the American Midwest, North Africa (where she took writing workshops with author Paul Bowles) and France. She currently lives in New York City with her husband.


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