Reviewer Janet Walker: Janet is the author of Colour To Die For, first of the Fee Weston Mystery Series. Janet lives in Australia and when she is not writing about P.I. Fee Weston's fight for truth, justice and a livable cash flow, she writes articles for magazines and fund raises for Australia's wildlife carers - heroes of the bush. For more about Janet and Fee visit Janet's WEBSITE
Author : Jeffrey Stone
Author : Jeffrey Stone
Prohibition, bathtub gin, bootleggers, model T’s, jazz and the talkies – all part of the rip-roaring 1920’s and all part of Californian writer, Jeffrey Stone’s debut mystery, Play Him Again. Jeffrey Stone, a self confessed research addict has written an intriguing mystery interspersed with fascinating facts about the beginning of the Hollywood ‘talkies’ movie industry which includes brief interludes from the real lives of silent movie actors and studio bosses.
It’s 1928 in downtown
Venice, California and things are not looking good for con man Danny
Kincaid. Savagely beaten, a bottle of whiskey was poured down his
throat before he was wedged behind the wheel of his Essex
Super Six Coupe. Two very bad guys push the coupe off the end of
Sunset Pier and, unable to open a window or door, Danny takes a one
way trip to the Pacific Ocean floor.
Danny’s body and car recovered next morning by the cops, they figure: Danny, drunk as a skunk, accidentally drove off the end of the pier. Not so, says Danny’s best friend, Matt Hudson (Hud). Hud, a swell guy, is a major player in the liquor industry – he’s a rumrunner/bootlegger with an impressive list of movie star and club owner clients. The 1919 Volstead Act introduced prohibition of transporting and selling of intoxicating beverages in the US. Drinking alcohol though, wasn’t illegal and half the population regarded bootleggers like Hud, not as criminals but as legitimate businessmen.
Hud, sure Danny was
murdered, vows to avenge his death. But first he has to find
out the con Danny was working on, and most importantly: who was being
A 1920’s buff, I found Play Him Again's opening chapters on Hud’s and other bootlegger’s operations riveting and amazing. Did patrons of illegal speakeasys know how the bottles of gin, whiskey etc they swallowed got to their table? Bootlegging was a violent, dangerous profession, many men were killed; Gangsters, tommy guns the preferred weapon, attacked and sank supply boats and delivery trucks were regularly hijacked. Maybe, 1920’s consumers weren’t aware that the liquor speakeasys sold was often thinned with embalming fluid and iodine to give it a kick or maybe they didn’t care – either way it must have been like swallowing paint stripper.
Hud’s supply boat and
delivery trucks are hijacked by Frank Minetti’s gang and he
discovers Minetti’s the guy who ordered Danny’s execution.
Minetti was Danny’s last mark; he conned him out of thousands of
dollars by using Movietone early sound recording equipment to make a
bogus talkie. Minetti agreed to invest and handed over the dough but
unfortunately for Danny, he got tipped off it was a con and when the
lights went down so did Danny.
Hud felt responsible –
many times he had discussed with Danny his dream to leave
bootlegging behind and make talkies. Maybe Danny would still be alive
if Hud hadn’t given him the idea for the con. Absorbing factual
data has been woven through the story about early sound recording
systems and the problems studios faced in introducing sound to a
public hooked on silent films/stars – really interesting.
Sylvia, Hud’s gorgeous upper class girlfriend, begs him to leave it to the cops to catch Minetti but a guy’s gotta do what a guy has to do. Together with his second-in-command, Swede, Hud works out a plan to make sure Minetti gets what he deserves – you’ll have to read Play Him Again to find out what that is.
Whether you’re a twenties fan or not, Play Him Again is a good read. Exciting and suspenseful, my only quibble was: a bit of the dialogue could, like bootleg liquor, have been cut to ensure the plot kept percolating. Practice makes perfect, and I’m sure Jeffrey Stone’s next Matt Hudson mystery will be even better than the first. I’m looking forward to it.
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