Reviewed by Will Maguire
Notorious in Nashville
by Phyllis Gobbell
Book 4 of 4: A Jordan Mayfair Mystery
October 2023, Paperback, 286 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1645994886
There’s something about a good country song.
It sounds as though it existed long before a note was ever sung. A ghost of a melody haunting a heart and voice and ears until it is dragged from the shadows up into the light.
Great country songs don’t duck the trouble of living. They mine it with the understanding that the listeners are waiting to hear themselves. To hear the heartache and daily heroism in the verses, their personal hallelujah rising in each chorus. It’s why they sound true.
Like a great country song, Phyllis Gobbell’s new novel, Notorious in Nashville, sounds true. It tells us things we already know but may have forgotten. That the world is not always good or fair, that love will be tested and sometimes fail. And that justice, however slow and blind, can be found if you seek it.
Set in Nashville, Gobbell’s longtime hometown, Notorious is a mystery and more, involving the murder of a young reporter uncovering shady real estate deals. Fast money speculators collide with gristly old songwriters, shining towers border riverside homeless camps, and the mother church of country music, the Ryman Auditorium, is surrounded by the rising redneck tide of Lower Broadway, its party buses and swarms of drunken woo girls. In all of it, the old and new struggle to find harmony.
Jordan Mayfair, the amateur sleuth, is caught up in battles that, page by page, uncover the plot. Old friendships are tested and betrayals exposed. Faith in the form of a forgotten rosary is lost and recovered. Love is tested by adversity.
Music is everywhere in Notorious. From the opening scene at the venerable Bluebird Cafe to the Schermerhorn Symphony to the rusty strings of a down-and-out songwriter forgotten by radio and time. And so, like a great country song, Notorious descends into the trouble in Music City in search of its truth.
In Gobbell’s Nashville, history is razed, cut up, and sold in pieces to progress. Landmarks that have stood for generations are demolished and substandard high rises thrown up in their place. But in the end, time-tested virtues and buildings remain while the fly-by-night swindlers and their fast money plans collapse.
Every great country song understands an unspoken law, that being blessed requires being broken in some way, by love or work or sin. That you can’t buy your way into freedom or happiness. That time, however slow, is fleeting, and can never be possessed, only rented. That history, like the truth, can be battered but never destroyed.
Phyllis Gobbell’s Notorious in Nashville reminds us that Nashville’s history, like a rising chorus of an unforgettable hymn, can be battered, but never destroyed.
And beneath it all, we hear the voice of a city remembering its song.
About the reviewer: Will Maguire is a songwriter and storyteller, living and working in Nashville. His stories and essays have been published in a number of literary magazines, including most recently The Saturday Evening Post, Well Read Magazine, Salvation South, Adelaide, and The Memoirist.