Note: I was originally asked by the writer to review this book when it first came out March 17, 2012, and received a copy for free. Before I was halfway through, I went back to Smashwords and purchased the book. This great a read deserves a payment to the author!
The Essex Super Six Coupe rolled over the redwood planking, shattered the wooden railing at the end of the Sunset Pier, and plunged into the Pacific Ocean.
I am not normally a student of American History. While the great histories of Egypt and the Mesopotamian regions are well within my purview, possibly my Native American history makes the history of the US after the arrival of the white man more painful than I care to think about. However, the period of this book, the 1920’s, the age of the Volstead Act and some of the bloodiest of the country, other than the Civil War, is admittedly fascinating. And Jeffrey Stone does an incredible job of making you feel like you are there, in the period, and know these people he is writing about.
The thing I totally admire about the book is Mr. Stone’s grasp of the period. His research was flawless. The main characters of the book are `rumrunners,’ those brave (and, of course, criminal) purveyors of `distilled spirits’, which were made illegal by the Volstead Act, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. This act of hubris, brought on by the efforts of `temperance societies’ in the US, created an atmosphere of violence and greed across the country unseen at any other period. Billions of dollars in tax revenues were lost (could the Great Depression have been foreshortened by the taxes from legal liquor sales?) while gangsters turned the country into a shooting gallery, and thousands died from imbibing bootleg liquors laced with wood alcohol and other chemicals. Embalming fluid, anyone?
Stone’s little band of `heroes,’ led by Hud, a rum runner and all around nice guy (yes, he is a criminal, but in those days, you took your `criminal’ by degrees) are devastated as the book opens by the murder of their friend Danny, a `big con roper’. As I got deeper and deeper into the book, the reality and the spirit of the period drew me in, and refused to let me go. Hud is a rumrunner, but he is also very involved in another story so integral to the period – the advent of `talkies’ – motion pictures that featured sound.
In this day and age of Blu-ray, surround sound and 3D, it is hard to remember that, in the first two decades of the 20th century, movies were filmed with no sound at all, and were viewed strictly in theaters. Stone’s research into the period provides fascinating background. While 1927’s “The Jazz Singer”, the first movie produced and distributed with actual spoken dialog, was hailed by audiences of the time, Warner Brothers Studios head, and others, considered `talkies’ a passing fad, and were reluctant to invest in the technology. Stone’s Hud, fascinated by the process and seeing the possibilities in the field, spends time during the book planning his own talkie production, thereby giving us deep insight into what I consider to the hysterically funny limitations of thought of the studio heads of the time. (Yes, you CAN buy a three-disk special edition of “The Jazz Singer” at Amazon. Personally, I am waiting for the 3D version – ROFL)
Overall, this is one of the best books I have ever read set in the period. I am a huge fan of Dashiell Hammett and his ilk from that period, but this is a different animal. Steeped in the actual history of the period, Stone’s Hud and his friends are a more accessible group, with a minimum of the angst present in Hammett’s work. With even the slightest interest in the period, the development of the movie industry, or human nature as a whole, this is definitely the book for you. I mean, who can’t love an author who starts out his story in the front seat of an Essex Super Six Coupe? I do love me some antique cars!
This book is free at Amazon! Get your copy today!
Raised in Ohio, Jeffrey M. Stone moved to Santa Monica, California, in his early twenties. He now lives in Sonoma, in the Northern California wine country. Santa Monica beach was two blocks away but now it’s forty miles to the coast, the water is cold, and the rocky shoreline not conducive to body surfing. These days his favorite pastimes are playing tennis and riding his bike. As a reader, Jeffrey’s preferred genres have always been mystery/crime and historical fiction. As a writer, he aspires to write well researched, entertaining crime stories that transport readers into a different era.