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Last Call at the Nightingale, by Katharine Schellman

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Vivian Kelly is a seamstress by day, an Irish orphan in the New York City of the mid-1920s. By night she dances her cares away at the Nightingale, a speakeasy that serves a mixed clientele in race, class, and sexuality. Her sister wishes she’d stay on the right side of the law, but the Nightingale is Viv’s haven from a world that doesn’t much care what happens to women like her…until she and her best friend Bea find a dead body in the alley.

The corpse looks only vaguely familiar, but the Nightingale’s owner wants Viv to help find out what’s going on–especially after the club gets raided. She’s not exactly happy to help, but she wants the Nightingale–and her friends who work there–to be safe, and her work gives her an excuse to fit clothes for the primary bereaved. And the interesting new man hanging around the club might have something to do with it all, but is it on the side of angels? Viv is highly motivated to find out. The dead man’s associates are providing a little…extra motivation of their own, and it is not always on the positive side, so Viv had better figure things out, fast.

This was a fun, easy reading mystery with lots of dancing to jazz, lots of cocktails, lots of flirting and friendship and sisterhood. Schellman’s notes after the book point out that she researched when the title Ms. was used (earlier than one might think!), whether there were Black and Irish girls living two blocks away from each other in NYC at the time (yes!), whether all the races and ethnicities she portrayed would be mixing at some types of speakeasy (absolutely!), and so on–I suspect that the fact that this is written as a fast-paced mystery rather than a footnoted treatise may be what trips up those readers who want to argue those points. (Certainly we can agree that the past was diverse, we just can’t enjoy it that way?) This one isn’t for them. It may well be for you, though.

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