Prohibition-era mobsters collide with Underground Railroad abolitionists in The Jazz Cage.
It is 1924—sixty years after the South’s victory in the Civil War.
Frank McCluey, bounty hunter for the mob, is sent to help out a wealthy Virginian bootlegger. Frank’s job: track down two female slaves who’ve run away from the millionaire.
But the mob has made a bad choice. Instead of capturing the women, Frank decides to help them escape to Canada, his mission now aided by the pint-sized but steel-willed runaway Della and the outlawed Underground Railroad.
Soon Della and Frank become the target of slave catchers, cops, gangsters, and most chilling of all, a Confederate agent nicknamed the Hound for his ability to always sniff out and kill his prey.
The Jazz Cage is a tale of what ifs. What if the South won the Civil War? What if slavery still existed? What if the Underground Railroad still existed? What if Arnold Rothstein and not his Italian counterparts created the mafia organization known as the syndicate? All of these what ifs are thrown in and mixed together to create an intriguing tale.
It’s a very well-written novel and the pace flows between characters and the tension builds to the expected climax. There are bad guys chasing Frank and the girls at every turn; from the Hound, a crooked, evil agent for the Fugitive Slave Agency to members of Arnold Rothstein’s organization to local authorities, Frank must stay one step ahead of the bad guys at all times.
Some parts would be hard to swallow, such as Della being an amazing shot but Chen does a good job of showing Della’s and Cece’s desperation - that they are literally fighting for their lives and so the unbelievable becomes believable as the two women, with the help of Frank, make their way north and to freedom with a host of bad guys on their trail.
Chen shifts the point of view from Frank to Delia to the Hound to Cece and they flow one into the other giving the characters more depth and background, each playing a pivotal role in the final showdown. Background stories are not overdone or drawn out, it is just a glimpse to understand the character better. Of course, the Hound is still despicable, just a purely evil person and I couldn’t wait til he got his.
I love reading about the mafia and old time gangsters, particularly Lucky Luciano, so it was really cool seeing figures such as Luciano and Arnold Rothstein in all their bad-ass glory. Although I had a hard time believing Frank could get the best of Lucky, but that is my own personal bias.
I really enjoyed The Jazz Cage. It was a well written, suspenseful and entertaining read. Anyone who enjoys historical fiction and mystery and suspense may find this book as enjoyable as I did. Thank you to Ray Chen Smith for my free copy of your wonderful novel.