Once you stop looking for a plot in “Thin Blue Smoke” (MacMillan New Writing, $23.95) and let yourself enjoy the cool ride, you'll find elegant yet fun-to-read writing and believable characters. How often do you read about fictional characters that you'd like to know in real life?
LaVerne Williams, A.B. Clayton and Ferguson Glen inhabit Smoke Meat, Kansas City's best purveyor of barbecue.
But don't let proprietor LaVerne catch you using the words purveyor or proprietor — he'd tell you he just makes good KC barbecue, Texas-style.
Yes, there's a difference. It's that difference that defines Smoke Meat — the fact that he doesn't sell fries or baked beans, and that he does sell Vinegar Pie.
LaVerne sums it up: “Barbecue is not fancy food. It's plain and it's simple. And that's how it should be served — plain and simple. If you're selling barbecue you serve it up in a barbecue joint. If you're selling fancy food, then it's fine to serve it in a fancy place. The only thing fancy about this place is the damn rent.”
Different is also what makes “Thin Blue Smoke” a great read. It sneaks up on you, again, while you're waiting for the romance or the crime novel to begin. It never does, but by page 99 (one of many great chapters), you catch yourself smiling and suddenly realize that you're simply having a good time.
That's all author Doug Worgul wanted, I suspect.
Worgul puts his two loves, barbecue and Kansas City, into the smoker and yields a tender, fall-off-the-bone chronicle of American life.
Sure, there are vestiges of that above looked-for plot: a down-home Kansas City blues community, unrequited love, pimps and hookers, a man on the fringes of life.