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. 


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