Bathing Beauties, Booze and Bullets by Ellen Mansoor Collier
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.
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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.