Theresa Marshall is a woman of a certain age who appears to live a comfortable life in her Fifth Avenue home during the Jazz Age. However, she is in a loveless marriage with her much older husband and has not gotten over the death of one of her sons during the Great War. Things change for Theresa when she meets Octavian, a young pilot and hero during the war. Theresa and Octavian begin a love affair and Octavian becomes intensely involved with Theresa. When Theresa's brother Jay becomes engaged to a young Sophie Fortesque, he needs a cavalier to deliver the engagement ring according to family tradition. Theresa offers up Octavian for the job. Octavian and Sophie meet and they know there is something more there. When Octavian is asked by Theresa to look into the new money of the Fortesque family, he finds a secret that not even Sophie knows about. Decisions will be made by Theresa, Octavian, Sophie and Jay that require courage , conviction and love.
In all fairness I should probably start this review with the fact I've never read any of Beatriz Williams' previous books, so I don't have any standing knowledge of her writing or characters. So it actually surprised me when I picked up this book and started enjoying it as a standalone, only to slowly fall further and further out of sorts with what was actually going on. I feel like I should warn any potential readers that although this is technically a standalone first book, there are references to Williams' other books here too. I had a friend who has read more of her works than I have explain them to me, and then everything made more sense after that. So, if you're lost, you might want to do a little digging. Just a PSA.
Now, on to The Wicked City. This is a dual narration book, alternating between the POVs of Ella Hawthorne in 1998 and Gin (Geneva) Kelly in 1924. I have to say, I was a little disappointed that Ella didn't get more of the limelight here. I actually enjoyed her story immensely, and felt like she got cut out more than she should have. Struggling to make her way in a world where she was once so happy, and now all alone, I so felt for her. While Gin's story was wonderful, and intriguing, the focus on her didn't create strong ties between these two women's stories. It felt more like Ella was just a filler story to connect Gin's story to present day events. There's a "ghost story" of sorts that works hard to make this connection, but I'm still not convinced. Add in the fact that the ending is wide open to make way for another book, and there are tons of loose threads floating out there, and you'll see why I was on the fence about that.
I can definitely say that Gin's story is well done though. Down to the vernacular, you can feel the vibe and grit of the 1920's. From speakeasies, to bootleggers, to prohibition era agents, it all draws you in to Gin's day to day life in Manhattan. I loved how easily Williams showed Gin's deep love for this Manhattan, despite its less than desirable aspects, and how realistic her life felt on the page. Despite not always feeling like her story tied into Ella's, I can't say that I didn't enjoy seeing life through Gin's eyes. Her story was wild and unpredictable, much like her character, and I appreciated that. In fact, had this been a story that only focused on her, I probably would have happily rated it much higher. It was the stretches of tying this back to other stories, and to other characters, that kept giving me issues.
Truth be told, I'll probably seek out more of Beatriz Williams' books, if for no other reason than I really enjoyed her writing style. I would also like to fill in some of the questions I have for myself, and give some of her other characters a chance. I still feel like it should be noted somewhere though that this book is a little difficult to read as a newbie to Williams' work. If you're willing to enjoy the story without fully understanding every little reference and nuance, you'll be fine. If you're nitpicky, like I am, you might have an issue. I'd say this is worth a read, as long as you know what you're in for! 1920's Manhattan is a fascinating place to take a literary trip to!
In 1924 Geneva, or Gin, as her friends call her, has become entwined in the atmosphere of Manhattan's speakeasies. A typist by day, Gin let's loose in the evenings and often visits the speakeasy, Christopher's in the basement of the building next door to her apartment. Life is good for Gin until Christopher's is raided one night and she is pulled back into the life she thought she had escaped and the step-father she would rather forget back in River Junction Maryland. Prohibition officer Oliver Anson has recruited Gin to help him bring down one of the biggest bootleggers in the East, her step-father Duke Kelly. At first, Gin is hesitant, but when she returns home to see how Duke has influenced everyone, she agrees to join, the stoic and strong prohibition officer on his mission. Recently, in 1998, Ella Hawthorne walks in on her husband cheating and promptly walks out of their home. Ella finds refuge in a humble apartment on Christopher street. Ella immediately finds a friend in her upstairs neighbor, Hector. Hector also gives her a warning to not go downstairs to the laundry room at night since there was a speakeasy in the basement next door and strange sounds can still be heard.
I found myself immediately pulled into The Wicked City. The writing and the characters grabbed my attention. First of all, I adore dual time stories. I do admit that Gin's story grasped my attention more; the writing so perfectly conveyed Gin's personality that I felt that this is someone that I would want to be friends with. Her strength, resolve and willingness to do what was right for her family and town made Gin irresistible to me and the other characters. I loved her sayings and her witty banter, everything she said felt so perfect for the time period but not overly done. The city itself also became a character; the city becomes alive as Gin states:
"...and I thought I had made a terrible mistake, that I would never belong in this sea of stink and vice, this hive of determined bees ling heir cells with hones. Ant then I tasted the honey, honey , and I stared to understand what New York City was all about. Hallelujah. I started to glimpse my place in the hive, how each tiny insect contributed her mite of pollen, how grand it was to live in a hive like this at all..."
With the city taking on a life of it's own, it made more sense that there was a lingering of spirits and the hint of a ghost story waiting in the wings for Ella to find and explore. I do feel like this side of the story could have been expanded, but the air of mystery it left was ideal for the atmosphere. As Ella connected more with Gin's story line, I did feel a stronger pull toward her as well. As Ella and Gin's story lines weaved together, I could see the parallels of their situations despite the years apart, both women were dealing with issues within their professions, man troubles and above all else, a new found sense of independence. Overall, a great mix of history, atmosphere, mystery and a touch of romance. I can't wait to see where it goes next!
This story was received for free in return for an honest review