In his first three novels, Bill Fitzhugh created new strains of homicidal insects, sliced open the illegal transplant business, and sinfully skewered the Church and Madison Avenue with the same spear. Now he turns his attention to the hitmaking machinery of Music City, U.S.A.
Depending on your point of view, Fender Benders is either a skewed look at the country music industry or a clear-eyed view of a damn screwy business. It's a Grand Old Opera complete with murder, treachery, greed, drugs, twangy music, a love triangle, and the best fried swimps you'll ever put in your mouth.
First off, some folks down South have taken to dropping like flies. One minute they have a headache, the next they have a date at the funeral home. Seems some lunatic is tampering with boxes of headache powder, lacing them with sodium fluoroacetate. It's a nasty death, but at least it's quick, and it makes you forget you had a headache.
Second off, Eddie Long wants to move to Nashville and become a country music star, but right now he's stuck in Hinchcliff, Mississippi. Eddie's big break comes with a contract to tour the Mississippi casino circuit. While he's on the road, his wife dies, the victim of an apparent serial killer. The emotional turmoil of his wife's death causes Eddie to write the best song of his life. He takes it to Nashville, hooks up with a hoary management company, and launches his career.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Rogers is a freelance writer covering the Mississippi music scene. He loves writing and a girl named Megan. Jimmy decides early on that he is going to write Eddie's biography. But as he's researching Eddie's wife's murder, Jimmy comes to a surprising conclusion. He can't proveit, but publishing it might make his own career.
Megan is a smart, talented, and popular radio personality in a tiny market. But she wants a faster way to Easy Street. So she turns to Eddie. In Nashville.
Before it's all over, everybody's planning to make a killing one way or another including the kind that has nothing to do with money. But, as frequently happens on Music Row, things don't always turn out as planned.
Rip-roaring with the author's trademark blend of withering insight, divine absurdity, and an outrageous cast of players, Fender Benders is a hilarious, action-packed, no-punches-pulled look at the music makers and fakers who would do literally anything for a hit record. Here is the irrepressible Bill Fitzhugh at his wildest and funniest. Betcha dolla!
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Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana
Fred Babineaux was halfway between Morgan City and Houma when he decided he had a brain tumor. He couldn't think of anything else to explain the king-hell of a headache swelling inside his skull. It was a tumor, he was sure of it, a tumor the size of a pink Texas grapefruit.
Fred was driving south on a narrow stretch of highway that traced the spine of a levee separating two cane fields thirty feet below on either side of the road. He was heading for Terrebonne Bay to meet with a man who wanted to buy a boat from the manufacturer Fred represented. The sale would mean a fat commission, but at the moment Fred would have forfeited that plus two months salary to make the headache disappear. He picked up the can of Dandy's Cream Soda that was sweating in the cup holder. He held it to his head for a moment hoping the cold would soothe the pain. When that failed, Fred thought maybe the problem was dehydration or low blood sugar, so he gulped half the can.
The fields below on both sides of the levee were lush with a young crop of sugarcane flourishing in the promising Louisiana heat. It was hot for late April and humid. A couple of snowy egrets stalked the edge of the cane fields stabbing orange beaks at their lunch. Here and there the familiar smear of armadillo slicked the road. Fred identified with one whose head had been reduced to the consistency of a thick roux.
His dehydration and low blood sugar theories disproved, Fred took his hands off the wheel and steered with his knee so be could massage histhrobbing temples. The radio was tuned to Kickin' 98, "Classic Country for South Louisiana, playing a mix of the old and the new, because a song ain't gotta be old to be a classic." They were playing a ballad at the moment, soothing close harmonies Fred hoped might ease his pain. By the end of the song, however, Fred knew he required pharmaceuticals.
He leaned over for the glove compartment when, suddenly, he heard what sounded like an airplane landing on the roof of his car. Startled by the abrupt roar of the thundering engine, Fred jerked his bands back to the steering wheel, narrowly avoiding a long plunge off the road. "Sonofabitch!" Adrenaline poured into his system. His heart rate soared, turning his already bad headache into severe unilateral periorbital pain. Fred looked out the window and saw the crop duster raining Gramoxone onto the sweet young cane. Maybe that's what caused my tumor, he thought. He'd been up and down these roads so many times over the years there was no telling how many gallons of herbicides and pesticides he'd absorbed. That had to be it. You could strap Fred Babineaux to the bottom of one of those noisy old biplanes, poke a few holes in him, and spray a field with whatever came out. Kill anything it hit.
Fred looked to make sure the plane wasn't coming again, then leaned over and popped open the glove compartment. He grabbed the familiar yellow-and-red box of Dr. Porter's Headache Powder, an aspirin product sold only in the deepest parts of the South. He'd bought this particular box at an EZ Mart in Shreveport the day before. To Fred's relief, the usually impenetrable plastic shrink-wrap on the brand-new box sloughed off easily and he quickly fingered out one of the folded rectangular sheets of wax paper that held the powder like a professionally packaged gram of something else entirely.
With one throbbing eye on the road, Fred unfolded the two ends of the rectangle and then the long top. He held one end closed and, with a jerk, tossed his bead back and poured the bitter powder into the back of his throat. He chased it with the remainder of his cream soda and, wincing slightly, swallowed the solution to all his problems.
In no time flat, Fred forgot about his headache. Sadly it wasn't due to the fast-acting nature of the medicine. At first his face went numb and his breathing became irregular. He considered pulling to the side of the road, but the shoulder was only four feet wide before dropping sharply into the cane fields below. The eighteen-wheeler bearing down from behind prevented him from simply stopping in the middle of the road.
Moments later, with no warning, Fred threw up violently, spewing his fried lunch onto the windshield. Panic set in as his body realized he was dying before his mind could grasp the fact, let alone ask why. Desperate to see the road in front of him, Fred wiped at the vomit covering his windshield. Smearing it only made matters worse. As if his compromised vision didn't make driving difficult enough, Fred began to hear sounds that didn't exist. His heart lapsed into what would best be described as irregular cardiac activity. But at least the headache wasn't bothering him anymore.
Fred's mind fixed on why he suddenly felt like he was dying. His wheels drifted onto the gravel shoulder, kicking up a spray of rocks that scared the snowy egrets into the sky. Had Fred been listening to the radio, he'd have heard the DJ introducing an old Dorsey Dixon song. "Here's a classic country flashback on Kickin' 98!" But Fred wasn't listening to the radio anymore. All he could hear was what sounded like a chorus of outboard motors in his head. The auditory hallucinations were part and parcel of the process taking place throughout his body, namely, the total cessation of his cellular metabolism. His central nervous system was so compromised that it was shutting down, and not temporarily.
Roy Acuff was singing about blood and whiskey mixed with broken glass strewn...
Fender Benders. Copyright © by Bill Fitzhugh. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Money turns otherwise rational people into crack heads, and people with more money than sense often turn out to be the biggest crack heads of all. And fame amplifies small idiosyncrasies into major catastrophes, to include drug use, fornication, and anger management issues. These themes run rampant in Bill Fitzhugh’s masterpiece. Eddie Long, a talented artist looking for his big break, gets it on both ends: Megan Taylor, a newly attached love interest, who is the pitch-perfect gold digger and Big Bill, a record executive with three ex-wives, who’s as unscrupulous as any political fat cat in the DC metropolitan area. Big Bill talks with one hand and shoves every bill he can find down the front of his massive drawers with the other, mostly off of unsuspecting artists too wet-behind-the-ears to notice. And he talks faster than a locomotive without brakes. As for the best way to describe this book, it’s like Metallica combined with Carrie Underwood and Eminem. For the first part of FENDER BENDERS, I felt like I had wrapped an axle around a tree, but the car was still running, and so I checked my rearview to make sure no one had seen me or the tree, and then I peeled back out onto the highway and kept my eyes on the horizon. Sure, this novel can be discombobulated at times, mostly near the first half of the book, but like my torn up wheels, as long as it helps me reach my final destination, I’m willing to get a bit sidetracked along the way, especially when the payoff makes me glad I took a slight detour. And it all comes together like a 100 piece orchestra reaching the dramatic crescendo. As for the insights into the music industry, they were refreshing, completely believable (clearly Mr. Fitzhugh has done his homework), and not overdone, at least not any more outlandish than the rest of the novel, which had me in stitches at times. But I ended up getting rather peeved at Nashville, the music industry, and all the ways artists get ripped off in the name of stuffing some fat cat’s bank account. The starving artist never comes out ahead, no sir. Sure, it’s easy to take this novel tongue-in-cheek, but what really caused the air around me to turn hotter than a sauna is that there’s an element of truth, and possibly even more so than just an element, in what this novel brings to light about overzealous pocket stuffing. I mean, when lawyers are showing more morals than record executives clearly there’s a level of corruption proliferating that would make even Enron and WorldCom blush. If Bill Fitzhugh ever ended up in his own story, he’d be placed in a straightjacket, handcuffed to a bed, and pumped so full of meds, he’d think the world was painted in rainbows with popsicle sticks. So for those of you who like humor, with eccentric characters and eccentric reads being your modus operandi, then you might want to hop in your Mercedes and head on down the highway, where the tea is always sweet, the shrimp are always fried, and your only source of music is country. Robert Downs Author of Falling Immortality: Casey Holden, Private Investigator
Fitzhugh is sharp on this one! Rapidly becoming one of my favorites.
Mississippi¿s Eddie Long feels one day he will take Nashville by storm. Eddie is currently doing the Southern bars and college route, but feels he is just paying his dues before the big break occurs. However, while on the road, Eddie learns that his wife has died. Grieving, he pours his soul into a eulogy-song that stuns the music world and makes him a hot prospect. Writer Jimmy Rogers sees honky tonk performer turn superstar Eddie as the perfect vehicle for a biography. His research soon leads him to believe that Eddie may have arranged his spouse¿s demise via food poisoning and the deaths of several other people while the musician toured the south. Jimmy, already jealous of Eddie stealing his girl, plans to prove that Eddie is more talented as a serial killer than a country western musician. FENDER BENDER is an amusing satirical look at the music industry and indirectly at serial killer novels. The story line skews any icon that falls in its path, but does so through not so subtle references to movies and books and a strong cast whose eccentricities and personal agendas add humor to a very funny mix. If novels like CROSS DRESSING and PEST CONTROL have not already introduced the reader to the sharp barbs of ; FENDER BENDER is the right tale for those who relish laughing at idols crumbling from the pedestals inside a dark facetious mystery. Harriet Klausner