Herman Jackson chose St. Paul as his place of permanent exile from Detroit after his former life as a bookie got too hot. Now he leads a respectable, low-profile life as a bail bondsman, selling second chances to losers and looking over his shoulder.
When a young woman named Amy Cox leaves a priceless antique violin as security for her brother's bail bond, it's really the beginning of an elaborate con game. But then she is murdered in front of Jackson's office. And for reasons that make no sense, the police are calling him the prime suspect...unless he gives them the violin as evidence.
With his criminal past, Jackson can't afford to be a prime suspect for jaywalking. But he is also not prepared to give in to extortion. Soon he is on the run, trying to solve Amy Cox's murder, pursued by one real and one crooked cop, a band of urban Gypsies, and an unknown killer who also wants Jackson dead.
Then the violin, reputed to carry a 400-year-old curse, takes on a life of its own.
This uneven debut introduces bail bondsman Herman Jackson, who sees nothing unusual when a woman calling herself Amy Cox comes to his office to arrange bail for her brother. She offers her violin as collateral, claiming it's an Amati worth $60,000 or more. Shortly after handing over the instrument to Jackson and getting a replacement from a nearby pawn shop, Amy is killed and the loaner stolen. Thus begins a wild, extravagant bait-and-switch. To get to the bottom of Amy's death and figure out who's conning him, Jackson must go back 60 years to learn the full story of the violin. The most charming character is a brassy waitress, Rosie, who plays Watson to Jackson's Holmes. Jackson himself is not especially well-developed, and the mystery would be stronger with fewer plot twists. Still, Jackson's location on the edge of the justice system is a good setup for a sequel, and with a bit of seasoning, Thompson may have a successful series on his hands.