Friday, July 19, 2019

Dead Man's Jazz--Speakeasy Musicians Are Murdered in YA Mystery

Dead Man's Jazz is the second in a mystery series by Connie B. Dowell.  I reviewed The Poison in All of Us, the first book in the series, here. I was looking forward to finding out how the small town Georgia teen investigators, Emmie and Dessa, would deal with crimes in the city of Savannah in 1919.  So I pre-ordered it on Amazon and have finally gotten a chance to review it.

My main impetus for reading The Poison In All of Us was that the case dealt with suffragettes.   There are suffragettes in this novel as well.  I would have to say that this is necessarily so because Emmie's mother, Irene, is a dedicated suffragette.  She decided to make the trip to Savannah in order to network with a Savannah suffragette leader.  Emmie and Dessa came along because they were on summer vacation from school.

I feel that it's important to note that Dead Man's Jazz takes place during the Red Summer of 1919.  This  was exactly a hundred years ago, and involved a nationwide intensification of white supremacist violence in the United States.  I found a relatively recent article about it from Teen Vogue here.  Connie Dowell also discusses it in her Author's Note.  Racism is a theme in  Dead Man's Jazz, but it isn't the primary focus of the novel.  Dowell says in the Author's Note that she didn't feel that she was the right person to write a book about Red Summer, but neither could she ignore the issue. Both Dessa and Irene take affirmative roles in trying to connect with and later assist the local African American Women's Club.  (Though I do think it likely that it would have been called the Colored Women's Club in 1919. "Serial killer" was another example of anachronistic vocabulary in this novel.  See Origin of the Term "Serial Killer" from Psychology Today.) The attitude of the white Savannah suffragette leader toward African American women seemed to imply that she firmly believed in segregation.

The case focused more on the band at a Savannah speakeasy.  It was mentioned that though there was no national prohibition of alcohol at that point, Georgia was a dry state where alcohol was illegal.   There were characters involved in bootlegging.

Another prominent issue was one involving the personal lives of a couple of the characters.  In reviewing The Poison in All of Us, Dessa's sexual identity was a spoiler, but Dowell outs Dessa in the description for this book.  So I guess it's appropriate for me to say in this review that there's lots of focus on lesbian relationship issues.  Theresa, Dessa's former lover, is the catalyst for Dessa and Emmie to be involved in this case since Theresa is a musician in the speakeasy's band.  I found Theresa very sympathetic.  Her inner strength made her my favorite character in this book.

It did seem to me that Dessa was far more dramatically prominent in Dead Man's Jazz than Emmie.  She was motivated by Theresa's involvement to take a more active role in the case and was going through a period of transition.  Emmie seemed to me to be a relatively marginal character.  I also found her less interesting than Theresa and Dessa, though I also very much liked Emmie's mother, Irene. There's a free prequel short story available to subscribers to Connie Dowell's newsletter in which Irene and her brother Charlie investigated a case when they were teens.  It's called "Unwound" and there's a download link for it after the Author's Note.   I think there's potential for an entire series about Irene and Charlie, but there's also potential for books focusing primarily on Dessa.

I was hoping for more focus on jazz  in Dead Man's Jazz since so many of the characters were musicians, but music was relegated to the background.   There were aspects of this book that I liked very much, but there were also parts of the narrative that I didn't find engaging. Yet I would definitely like to read more about some of these characters. 


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Death in a Desert Land--Blog Tour Review of Novel With Agatha Christie as a Detective

Death in a Desert Land by Andrew Wilson is the third book in Wilson's mystery series in which mystery author Agatha Christie is an investigator.  I applied for the blog tour and received a free copy for review from Stephanie Mendoza of Atria Books, the publisher of this novel.

I have a content warning for those who care about animals.   If you strongly object to reading about any incidents of violence against pets, this book isn't for you.


The main reason why I wanted to read this novel is because it begins with Agatha Christie being asked to investigate the  death of Gertrude Bell by British intelligence which sent Christie to the archaeological site in Ur located in Iraq. Gertrude Bell was a fascinating woman who was a major factor in shaping the Middle East as we currently know it.  For more information, readers should see her Wikipedia article that I've linked.  I also knew that Agatha Christie had been to Ur because she met her second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan, there in 1930.  One of her books, Murder in Mesopotamia, was drawn from her experiences in Iraq.  So Death in a Desert Land did seem historically feasible as well as being of particular interest to me.

The main focus of the case was on archaeologist Leonard Woolley, his wife Katherine, and events at the Ur excavation.  The Woolleys were also real individuals.  People may want to research them after finishing this book.  Wikipedia articles about them contain serious spoilers that would ruin your experience of reading Death in a Desert Land.

This is a tightly plotted mystery with all the requisite twists and a great deal of suspense.  Armchair archaeologists will love all the details about how archaeology was conducted during this period and the environment in which they worked.

A number of the characters are provided with intriguing backgrounds.  Determined women are significant to the story line though I wouldn't really consider this a feminist novel.   There are valid historical reasons why many women during this period could be primarily motivated by their relationships with men.  Agatha Christie, the protagonist, was more independent minded than other women in this book.  I felt that the characters were realistically portrayed.

I thought that Death in a Desert Land was a well-written mystery.  I also liked the opportunities it gave me to find out more about the real people who appeared in the novel. 

                                  Andrew Wilson

                                  photo by Johnny Ring

For more information about Andrew Wilson see his website at