“As much character study as mystery … this is Simon’s best book to date.” Thank you so much, Book Blog of the Bristol Public Library!

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Bookblog of the Bristol Library

Reviews by the Reference Department of the Bristol Public Library, Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Hold Me Down by Clea Simon

Reviewed by Jeanne

It’s been awhile, but Gal was a star. Not in a girl band, but a genuine rock band and she’s quick to correct anyone who says otherwise. They called her fearless as she ground out her songs onstage, backed by a changing roster of female musicians, and she felt powerful and free. She worked the crowd, controlling them, bending them to her will.

She feels a bit of that tonight as she plays to a crowd once again.  The trouble is that it’s a benefit concert to raise money for one of her former bandmates, Aimee. They were like sisters, tearing up the music scene and indulging in the sometimes questionable benefits of being rock star stars; only Aimee got out.  She married, had a daughter, and got divorced.

And then she died.

Cancer leaves a lot of bills to pay; and there’s Camille, Aimee’s daughter, who is in college. The concert will help.  Also on hand is Walter, Aimee’s ex-husband whose grief is palpable. Walter was one of their roadies, back in the day.  It all brings back so many memories.

The concert has brought not only the surviving band members back together, but also the fans and friends from that long ago era. Gal catches a glimpse of a half-remembered face in that crowd and suddenly freezes, losing her place not only in the song but in time. A moment, and it’s gone.

It isn’t until the next day that Gal hears that the man was murdered—and that Walter has confessed. But why? 

The answers lie in the past, and Gal is going to have to search her memories and question old friends in order to discover the truth.

For me, this was as much character study as mystery, but a study fixed in a particular time and place.  It’s the Boston rock scene, where bands can make it to the big time or crash and burn in obscurity.  It’s also a very masculine scene, where the women have to have swagger and a thick skin in order to try to be taken seriously.  Gal and her bandmates are young and hungry, and not just for success.  There are drugs aplenty, groupies, and any number of people only too willing to use, abuse, and discard young musicians.  Gal soon finds that some of her memories may not be quite as she recalled.

Simon does a wonderful job of evoking a time and place.  Readers who know the places described will be enthralled, but even those of us who have never been to Boston will feel as if we have. You don’t even have to be a rock fan.  Simon takes you to the back alleys, the stages, and hotel rooms where musicians hang out. There may not be glamor, but there is energy and power, not to mention sweat and vomit. It’s easy to see how musicians get caught up in it all, sometimes to their detriment.  I enjoyed the atmosphere as much as I did the puzzle. (Well, maybe not the vomit. But you know what I mean.) And by the way, the solution did not disappoint.

This was a darker book than most of Simon’s, but I didn’t find that to be a deterrent.  Gal is an especially well done character, someone we can relate to or else she reminds us of someone we know, but best of all, she grows during the book.  She faces her truths and comes out stronger.

I think this is Simon’s best book to date.