So, today, I'm writing a review for "The Jazz Cage," a book provided to me strictly for review by the author, Ray Chen Smith.
Synopsis: 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.
* * *
First off, I love historical fiction. If you don't like history or a ton of historical references, know that this book is full of them. It's set in the Roaring 20s, so obviously you will have large servings of history. One lady left a negative review because she didn't get half the stuff he was talking about and said she had to constantly stop and Google things to understand. And, what's wrong with that? Come on, now. Don't give a book a negative review because it's not your style even though the author was spot on with his intended theme! An author doesn't write to cater to everyone. It isn't possible. This was similar to folks who leave bad reviews because the book took too long to be delivered. Really!? Anyway, I digress ...
Smith had the story moving from the first page. I was locked in from the second I read the first fight scene. The main character Frank McCluey is a gangster turned hero. He was hired by a millionaire to hunt down and bring home these two runaway slave girls. His change of heart earned him many enemies, and he had to put his intuition and motivation in overdrive to blaze through all the obstacles in their way of salvation. He made it his quest to not only capture the girls but make sure they didn't end up back in the cruel hands of Mr. Wills, their owner. With assistance from secret operatives with the Underground Railroad, they had a chance to escape to Canada, if only they could make the trek to get to the border via boat near Niagra Falls. I normally don't like gangster or "Godfather" type stories, but this one had a twist that drew me in. Frank ends up risking everything, even his own life, to help two runaway slaves and do the right thing against the odds.
* * *Here's my likes and dislikes list ...
- Strong plot and action-packed, with each chapter ending in a turn of events. I gasped midway when a character who seemed invincible and very likeable gets killed in a very shocking manner, ending the chapter.
- Very well written with no repetitive phrases, which a LOT of authors are prone to do. I can't stand that, but Smith was totally generous with his word variety. I did not find myself eye rolling at abused words and phrases.
- The book presents you with a great mix of well-developed characters to both love and despise, my favorite being Frank, Mr. Tough Guy who can annihilate enemies without a second thought, with a soft heart for the worthy.
- I felt like I was right there on the run with the characters on the road, through the fields, in dusty underground hideaways, experiencing the car chases and shoot-outs.
- The tone changed often, which kept me wide awake. Every time I thought OK, nothing's going to happen, something surprised me and recharged my curiosity.
- His use of profanity was tasteful, as oxymoron'ish as that sounds.
- It was one of those stories that made me think about it long after I'd shut the book.
- And it compelled me to want to read more of this author's work.
- The younger of the two runaway slave girls, Cece, kind of annoyed me. There was something about how she was 20 but reverted to being childlike most of the book as a result of sexual abuse by the master. It was a breath of fresh air when she snapped out of it, BUT she still seemed to be childlike and highly dependent on Della.
- I felt like I had to wait too long to really know the whole story behind the frequently-mentioned Karol, past lover of Frank who was killed long before.