Thursday, June 27, 2013

Bathing Beauties, Booze and Bullets by Ellen Mansoor Collier

Title: Bathing Beauties, Booze and Bullets
Author: Ellen Mansoor Collier

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1920s / Galveston, TX / Beauty Pageant / Murder Mystery / Reporter / Prostitutes / Cover Up)
Publisher/Publication Date: Self published (2013)
Source: Cozy Mystery Book Tours

Rating: Liked a great deal.
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: Flapper and reporter Jazz Cross covers an pageant and tries to solve murders while her personal life gets increasingly messy.
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Adore it -- it totally captures the feel of the era and story.

First line: Rehearsals for the Miss Universe contest -- Galveston's annual "International Pageant of Pulchritude and Bathing Girl Revue" -- were in full swing when Nathan and I arrived at the Grand Opera House.

Why did I get this book?: I really enjoyed Collier's first novel and love the setting.

Review: I was completely charmed by Jazz Cross in Collier's first book, Flappers, Flasks and Foul Play but was totally taken with this book, the second in her series following the spunky, intrepid flapper-reporter Jazz Cross.

Opening in the summer of 1927 in Galveston, Texas -- Sin City of the Southwest! -- the story focuses on Galveston's famed 'International Pageant of Pulchritude and Bathing Girl Revue' (!!) which has turned into the Miss Universe Pageant (to compete with Atlantic City's Miss America Pageant, the city is also hosting the first Miss United States Pageant as well). ('Pulchritude', by the way, means 'beauty', and it might be one of the ugliest words I've ever heard!)

Jazz, our 21-year old heroine, is assigned to cover the bathing beauties and pageant girls, and she quickly stumbles onto some shocking gossip. While trying weigh the truth, she discovers prostitutes are being murdered and the city is unwilling to investigate. Obviously, Jazz wants to take this on as well! There are more gangsters, double crossing shenanigans, Treasury Agents, a little romance, corruption, and a lovely ending.

As with the first book, Collier combines historical trivia with a cozy mystery beautifully, and I'm falling in love with her 1920s Galveston. This book was slightly more grim than Flappers, Flasks and Foul Play , I thought, but fit with the story's plot and the juxtaposition of the bright cheer of the pageant world with the dark underbelly. Despite this being a 'cozy' kind of mystery, Collier doesn't skirt from the real crimes of the day, either, and her treatment of prostitutes and sex workers wasn't salacious nor tasteless. Jazz is wonderfully empathetic in a way that felt authentic, not modern, which I always appreciate, and she's a lovely heroine to follow. (She passes my I-want-her-to-be-my-friend test!)

You can read an excerpt from the first chapter at Collier's website. While reading the first book isn't necessary to enjoy this book, I think starting with Flappers, Flasks and Foul Play is worth it, as Collier continues developing Jazz's friendships and relationships, and it's very satisfying to watch. I ripped through this book in less than two days -- it was the perfect mix of historical detail and zippy plot to keep me happy without taxing my work-frazzled brain -- and I'm eager for the third one! (I'm assuming there will be a third one -- or at least, hoping desperately!)

I think readers who like Boardwalk Empire would enjoy this one, with the mix of city politics, 'wholesome' family entertainment, and seedy criminal elements; anyone mad for Gatsby-era settings might want to consider this one, too, as it captures the dangerous allure of glamor, fame, and easy fortune.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer an e-book copy of Bathing Beauties, Booze and Bullets to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers, ends 7/12.


  1. Audra,
    Many thanks for your wonderful reviews of my Jazz Age mysteries! You really "got" my books and I'm so delighted by your reaction! Still mulling over ideas for the third mystery...
    Thanks again! Ellen

    1. Ellen -- thank YOU! Just what I needed this month -- and I'm missing Jazz already! Can't wait to see what might come next!

  2. That sounds so interesting. I love this era and I might have to pass it on to my mom and sister, who are huge Boardwalk Empire fans! Thanks!

    1. It's quite fascinating -- this one in particular made me think of Boardwalk Empire -- perhaps because it had an Atlantic City feel to it. Super fun, fast read!

  3. This is so so crazy! I just finished another round of edits on a manuscript set in this era, in Galveston, on the beach. So weird. I need this book!

    1. Wow! Can't wait to see that book when it comes out -- am v intrigued by Galveston now -- in the previous book, Collier talks some abt how the storm really changed up things for the city (for the worse!).

  4. What a great cover! But that's the problem with an e-book - one doesn't have that great cover to display!

  5. Great review- I am going to get the first book in the series-thanks!

  6. I don't read a lot of cozy mysteries, but this sounds like a good one

    1. Like Ellen says below, this isn't a cozy-cozy but it's not grim or gritty like some other historical mysteries. It is a perfect summer series -- I'd liken it to the Phryne Fisher series.

  7. Serena, this isn't your typical cozy but I'd call it soft-boiled. I wanted to explore a different side of Prohibition, and show how it affected everyday people, not just gangsters and bootleggers. Hope to release it in a trade hard copy asap--stay tuned! Thanks to all for your great comments~ especially to Audra!

  8. This sounds so fun! Adding it and the previous book to my goodreads to-read queue immediately!