In Rhapsody in Blood, Benjamin Justice accompanies his sassy best friend, African-American journalist Alexandra Templeton, to the once-glamorous Haunted Springs hotel just outside of Los Angeles, in the town of Eternal Springs.
On the Ides of March in 1956, glamorous film star Rebecca Fox was murdered in room 418. Blame was swift and brutal; Ed Jones, a young African American seen leaving her room, is immediately judged to be the culprit and lynched at the local gaol by an angry mob reportedly led by the Ku Klux Clan.
Although the poisoned and lifeless waters of Lake Enid now cover the town and the gaol, the spirit of Ed Jones and the injustice that was done to him continues to haunt the area. New DNA evidence now proves that the semen found on Rebecca Fox's panties was not that of Jones, and that he may have been innocent of the crime.
The murder investigation is reopened, but things are complicated. An independent film on the events all those years go is under production starring some of Hollywood's hottest actors. There is also a new murder for Justice and Templeton to solve when Toni Pebbles, an aggressive and belligerent gossip columnist, shows up intent on outing one of the movie's stars.
Of course, Ben continues to be haunted by a scandal, which long ago cost him the Pulitzer Prize and his job as a journalist. Now 50, HIV-positive, and existing mostly hand to mouth, Ben still relies on Templeton and his older friends Maurice and Fred to keep him focused. But he remains the same old Ben, still prone to foolish vanity, wishful thinking and the loneliness of a man pushing fifty who hasnít hooked up with anyone for a while. And of course, Ben can't help but be attracted to hunky A-list movie star Christopher Oakley.
Author John Morgan Wilson keeps the hectic plot moving, peppering the proceedings with ubiquitous red herrings and using thundering, rain-soaked nights as a devilishly dramatic backdrop. Ben is an assiduously charming hero; his instincts are finely tuned, and he still has that ineffable knack for getting to the heart of the story, but can he uncover the truth behind Rebecca Fox's murder and finally achieve vindication for Ed Jones? There are so many possibilities, false leads, missing evidence, modus operandi, opportunities, motivations, and all manners of deception.
The answers to the murderous riddle perhaps lie in the past, lost in a place that means something so different to many of the characters and where nefarious motives and furtive shenanigans have been shrouded in secrecy for many years. The themes are vital and relevant Ė the misogyny of rap music, life in the closet, the injustices of racism, and the fickleness of Hollywood.
As Ben draws closer to the heart of the mystery surrounding Haunted Springs and the truth of what really happened in Room 418, he must continue to live with his past in the way one lives with the nagging pain of an old injury that perhaps never fully heals.