is how Esther Mine would describe something that was authentic; revealing both its good and bad qualities. The Songbook of Benny Lament by Amy Harmon is a literary exploration of race, family, and love set against the backdrop of the tumultuous 1960’s. From a young age Benny knew he was different because of the way music and lyrics flowed from him. However, being the nephew of the New York City mob boss and son of a mob enforcer meant certain expectations were placed on him. Benny has spent his entire life using his music to lead a life apart from his family and any personal commitments, until the night his father guilts him into visiting a little known, backstreet club. There a powerhouse voice wrapped in the most diminutive female body and a larger than life personality captivates him and demands his help. Even though he knows he should walk away from Esther Mine, he finds that he is attracted to more than her music and inexplicably wants to help her and her brothers succeed. With a connection that is palpable, both on and off the stage, they are thrust into the public spotlight, which is good from a business perspective but bad in that it opens the Pandora’s box of Esther’s past, which many powerful and dangerous people have tried to keep closed.
The Songbook of Benny Lament is such a spot on piece of historical fiction that I actually did an internet search to makes sure that Benny Lament and Esther Mine were not real people from the 1960s. The story contains so many actual events and famous names, especially from the burgeoning Motown scene, that you think you are reading a biography instead of fiction. Amy has created amazingly authentic personas, not only in Benny and Esther but in their respective families, from their mannerisms and dialogue to their attitudes and actions. Beware, the plot will hook you quickly and propel you page after page, making it hard to put down. If you do it will percolate in your mind until you are forced to change plans just so you can dive back into the story.
Amy Harmon has written an absolutely mesmerizing book that will weave its way through your soul. She doesn’t sugar coat the facts in The Songbook of Benny Lament; life as a person of color or under the umbrella of the mob was an ugly and sometimes brutal existence. But this reality is what makes the story of Benny and Esther’s connection, both musically and emotionally, so beautiful and moving. Love does not see color and Benny and Esther’s love story lives out Esther’s mantra, “You wanna change the world, you gotta show’em what it looks like”. While this is a tale with a number of profound themes, they are skillfully threaded through an engaging plot and wonderfully developed characters. In her notes, Amy states, ” I can only hope I played the right notes and struck the right balance”. She did that and so much more with The Songbook of Benny Lament. So put on your red lipstick and grab your copy today!!