MysteryPeople Review: TROUBLE IN THE HEARTLAND, edited by Joe Clifford

“Don’t like Springsteen?” Eddie asks. She huffs. “I’m one wrong turn from being a character in one of his songs.”

-Jen Conley’s “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City”

trouble in the heartland

No character escapes that fate in Trouble In The Heartland. Editor Joe Clifford has gathered forty strong voices of crime fiction, each contributing a story inspired by a Springsteen title. Dennis Lehane turns the ignition with a skillful look at paranoia after a crime with “Highway Patrol,” sending us along on a careening midnight road of working class last  shots, violence, and heartache, and proving that there’s a lot of range to a Springsteen character.

Many of the stories mirror the singer/songwriters work. Jordan Harper proves to be a perfect pick with “Prove It All Night,” hitting the cadences, word play, and hard lyricism of an Seventies Springsteen tune. It is a story that makes a stand. James R. Tuck captures the creepy and compelling vibe of “I’m On Fire,” giving it a dark twist, giving it a dark twist. Benoit Lelievre plays off the lyrics of “Atlantic City” in gruesome fashion.

Others simply use the title than full song. Hilary Davidson explores the obsession that sometimes gets lost in the upbeat tune “Hungry Heart.” The story leads up to a line that is hard-boiled heartbreak. Todd Robinson uses “We Take Care Of Our Own” to look at retribution on an inner city basketball court. Lincoln Crisler takes “Born To Run” for a clever tale of revenge and long distance running.

Springsteen’s themes even work outside of the crime fiction genre. Court Merrigan’s  “Promised Land” casts an outcast woman in a modern western that has the grit of the earth. Chuck Reagan takes Springsteen both literally and figuratively as far as you can by setting “Radio Nowhere” in a space satellite.

By the time you hit Richard Brewer’s pitch perfect and perfectly placed “The Last One to Die” at the end, you have the experience of a well executed concept album. All the authors find a way to tap into emotions that are heartfelt without being maudlin. The collection gives you all the colors of a world where life goes on, even though there is decay all around. The Boss would be happy.

Copies of Trouble in the Heartland are available on our shelves and via


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