Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Review: The Jazz Cage by Ray Chen Smith

Title: The Jazz Cage
Author: Ray Chen Smith
Publisher: Self
Date of Publication: June 12, 1012
Format: Kindle, 337 pages
Source: received from author for honest review


Goodreads Summary:


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



My feelings:


This is by no means a science fiction or fantasy novel but I did feel like The Jazz Cage had a definite "alternate universe" feel to it. I mean, come on the SOUTH wins the Civil War!!! Anyone who knows their history can definitely see this as a very bad thing...but it does make for an interesting concept for a mystery/crime thriller.   I see the time period-the twenties-very important because that still wasn't too far from the Civil War and people are still seeing the ramifications of allowing the South to win.  It is still a charged up time with not only slavery still running rampant but you also have the American gangsters trying to control things in the North.  This is just a very emotional time any which way you look at it.  
I love a good crime thriller and always enjoy historical novels.  This one delivers on both, even if the historical side is more of a "what if" concept.  I had a hard time putting this novel down.  It flows through with enough action to keep you hanging on but there is also a powerful insight into human nature, both good and bad, that will keep you questioning till the end.  
Our heroines, Della and Cece, are on an escape for their lives and for their very souls too.  Della is a strong woman but is always questioning herself and others in her mind.  Cece is very troubled with so much turmoil running through her, she sometimes to reverts back to a simpler time in her life; when she was a child.  Both of these women learn more about themselves as they fight for their freedom. 
Frank is our bounty hunter for the mob.  Frank is a criminal but he is so much more too.  Frank holds true the adage "honor among thieves."  He is good at what he does but he is also a good human being too.  He finds himself caring for these two women who have more in common with him than he realizes.  
These three make an unlikely group but they end up learning from  each other and more importantly, understanding how to trust each other.  
You can't help but get drawn into the drama surrounding everyone.  I know I caught myself holding my breath a couple of times, just knowing Della and Cece were going to get caught.  
I am glad that our author, Smith, shows us that racism and bigotry wasn't just in the South but was still high in the North as well.  One of the scenes that shows this is when Della goes into the hotel in New York to use the phone.  After using it the hotel clerk approaches her and questions why Della is there.  After checking with Della's "employer" she tells Della:

"...remember that officially, you people are welcome here, but unofficially, most of our clientele aren't as enlightened as we are.  So I think it best if you come in here to use the phones again, come in through the back with the other help." -67% Kindle


From just this scene it shows us that there is still a prevalent racist attitude even among the free states.  
There are many different bad guys in this novel, but you find yourself realizing there are different degrees of bad too.  The Hound is by far the worst and most evil, especially since he could say he is just doing his job.  

I did, however, have a hard time wrapping my mind around all the different government agencies, partly because I still found myself thinking about the real history instead of the story's history.  There were times I felt like America was split into two different countries because there were border patrols between the two sides: North and South.  But they were still under the same country and law.  It just got confusing to me and I am not sure if I was looking at it in the right way but this still didn't take away from the story.  
All in all, there are many surprises throughout the book and at times I actually felt my mouth drop open when someone I really liked gets killed.  I was definitely not expecting that.  And I was none too happy for it either.  

I had to give The Jazz Cage four hearts!  




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