The Big Rewind: A Novel by Libby Cudmore (William Morrow, $14.99, 256 pages)
Music was an emotion she felt at her absolute core. It wasn’t to dance or get drunk to. Music was represented by love.
The Big Rewind might be subtitled A Rock and Roll Mystery. Jett Bennett, a young woman in New York City who works as an office temp, receives a package intended for her friend and neighbor known as KitKat; the package contains a rock music mix tape. (That’s right, even though this story is set in the present day, KitKat was sent a Maxell C-90 cassette tape filled with music. “I’ve got a smartphone, but I’m not too young to remember the exact weight and feel of a Maxell mix tape. They’re just slightly heavier than a regular cassette, weighed down with love and angst, track lists thick with rubber cement and collage.”) When Jett goes to deliver the tape to KitKat she discovers that she’s been beaten to death. A young black man, a person who runs in the same city social circles as Jett, is arrested for the crime.
Jett feels instinctively that law enforcement has focused on the wrong subject, and she proceeds to do her best to find out who actually killed her friend. This may seem like an explanation of the storyline, but in fact the story is mostly about music. If you love listening to rock music, and you loved watching the film “High Fidelity,” the odds are that you will very much enjoy reading The Big Rewind.
Like the record store clerks in “High Fidelity,” author Cudmore has an encyclopedic knowledge of modern music and she has a great deal of fun showing off within the pages of this novel. The book allows her to express her love of certain rock groups, and also to enjoy tearing down the bands she is not so fond of. For example, in character as Jett, Cudmore writes:
I derided Mumford and Sons as being “like Flogging Molly if all the punk rhythms and talent was removed.” Ouch! This is the kind of comment that gets one unfriended if posted on Facebook. (But it’s fun.)
She also enjoys examining the psychology of those who made mix tapes – and who today may compile and share mix discs or digital playlists:
There isn’t a better feeling in the world… than acknowledgment that your mix tape was not only received and played but enjoyed. It’s a dance of sorts, balancing songs you think the listener will love while trying to say everything that otherwise dries up in your throat before you can get out the words.
If I recall correctly, in “High Fidelity” the main character states, wisely, that mix tapes display more about the person who put them together than they do – or did – about the intended recipient.
Make no mistake, Cudmore can write and write quite effortlessly.
(The musician) Cassie wore burgundy Doc Martens with black tights and a flannel skirt; her dark-blond hair was crimped and pushed off to the side with a handful of clips. She was a relic of the last time music mattered, where a songwriter wasn’t some Swedish computer geek plotting song like math problems. Her silver nameplate bracelet and the necklace that matched were the only things about her that looked new and shiny. Everything else about her had the worn edges of a hard-won life.
And she writes quite effectively about her life-affirming love of music:
I thought about the music I had hoarded, my fear that if I heard the songs in the wrong place and time it might mean they no longer belonged to the moments I clung to.
The reader can relax in the knowledge that Jett’s going to solve the crime, even if she and we don’t know exactly when that will happen.
I put on Warren Zevon’s Sentimental Hygiene for background music and tried to put all the clues I had together, like assorted pieces from three different jigsaw puzzles. A secret boyfriend, a missing bracelet, a mix tape. I had the names, the locations, the pieces in play. I just didn’t know what order they went in to make the tiny paper Clue checklist that would lead me from her dead body on the kitchen floor to her killer standing convicted in the courtroom.
As with most successful mysteries, The Big Rewind proceeds on past the point at which the crime has been solved and the true criminal placed behind bars. Yet it almost does not matter, as the reader is having such fun being drenched in music comments and trivia. Cudmore, in fact, titles the final chapter, “Here’s where the story ends.”
(My boyfriend) put on Hall and Oates’ “You Make My Dreams,” and I laughed, singing along with the “hoo hoo” parts like the Oates that I was.
Yes, rock lovers, this is your book. Libby Cudmore has passed the audition. As John Lennon might have said, “It’s good!”
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
This review was first posted on the Blogcritics site: