We recently reviewed All That Glitters by Michael Murphy, knowing it was Book #2 of a fun historical detective mystery series (link at the end of this review). I loved it so much that I immediately went in search of Book #1, The Yankee Club. Now normally when I do that, I don’t review those out of sequence novels on this web site but I couldn’t resist with this one. Michael Murphy has captured a Great Depression era mystery style that’s an homage to Dashiell Hammett’s phenomenally popular The Thin Man novels and films, yet with Murphy’s own unique take on things.
The Yankee Club is one of those reads that is perfect for a cold winter night’s reading by the fire – or to take on the plane during your next vacation. And its price makes it a real bargain. If you’re a detective story, an entertainment industry, or a mystery fan – or you just like good old fashioned stories about relationships, I think you’ll get a real kick out of this series.
Here’s a fun clip for the trailer of the first The Thin Man film:
It’s 1933 and the U.S. is deep in the midst of The Great Depression. Organized crime is a scourge in major cities. Men who would normally never have resorted to crime are brazenly holding up banks while others are riding the rails in search of any work or as hobos when they’ve given up. Soup kitchen lines form in every city and town, and the few ultra rich make millions of bucks while millions of people who were doing well before the stock market crash have sunk into abject poverty. In other words, the country is in a real mess. President Roosevelt has been hard at work trying to find a way to salvage what’s left of the economy and is promising he can turn things around with his New Deal – a deal met by many with skepticism mingled with hope, and a deal the powerful and wealthy want to see squashed at any cost. (And if this sounds vaguely familiar, it should, given our current “history-repeats-itself-again” conditions.)
Jake Donovan, an ex-Pinkerton agent who’s become a bestselling mystery author, has been living in Florida for a couple of years but has just returned to Manhattan at his editor’s request to do some finishing edits on his latest Blackie Doyle gumshoe novel. It’s got some issues they need to resolve before the publication date. He’s returning with mixed feelings because of the way he left town – actually the way he fled town when his childhood sweetheart and the love of his life, Broadway actress Laura Wilson, turned down his last and most heart-felt marriage proposal. He finally realized she would probably never marry him. Broken hearted, he ran as far as he could get on the East Coast…Florida. There he tried to bury his feelings and just write, not that it did any good. He still loves her and guesses he always will, which makes coming back to New York a bitter pill.
And then the pill becomes more bitter when he learns Laura is engaged to another man. She must never have loved him at all if she could turn around and become engaged to some millionaire investment banker when she said she loved Jake but didn’t want to marry anyone. Talk about twisting the knife. Jake can’t believe it – this can’t be the Laura he’s known and loved all these years. It just doesn’t make sense.
When he visits his prior detective agency partner, Mickey O’Brien, Jake is told Laura knows what she’s doing in getting engaged and is oddly warned to leave Laura and her relationship with Mr. Dalrymple, the banker, alone. Okay, that doesn’t make sense. It may be good general advice but anyone who knows Jake knows he’s going to do everything he can to win her back. Why the warning?
“’I didn’t run off.’
‘Sure you didn’t. Anyways, what was Laura supposed to do, become a nun?’
I managed to smile. ‘That was my hope.’
Mickey laughed and clapped a hand on my shoulder. ‘My advice? Return to Tampa and let this thing with Dalrymple play out.’
‘Play out? What are you saying?’
Mickey blew a soft plume of smoke into the night air. ‘Nothing, Jake. Nothing.’
I couldn’t talk about Laura anymore. I had to make sure Mickey wasn’t in some kind of trouble. ‘Gino says you haven’t been in [The Yankee Club] for a while. You haven’t written me in months.’
Mickey raised an eyebrow. ‘What are you getting at?’
‘Heard you’re working on a big case.’
He dropped his cigarette and crushed the butt beneath his shoe. ‘It’s…confidential.’
‘Even to me?’
He kept important things to himself, first about Laura, now a case. That wasn’t like the man I’d gone to war with, my partner of eight years.”
Prohibition is still in full force and speakeasies are the place everyone with any spare money goes to party and drink homegrown hooch, trying to forget their troubles for the night because who knows what tomorrow will bring. The Yankee Club in Queens is one of the swingingest speakeasies in the five Boroughs, with Manhattan’s in-crowd partying like there is literally no tomorrow.
“’How’s Mickey? He wrote and bragged about the success of his one-man detective agency and asked if I missed the line of work. I always wrote back, but the letters trailed off the last few months.’…
[Gino said,] ‘…I ain’t seen Mickey for a month, maybe two. Come on. He’s right down the block, you know? Of course you do.’
Didn’t sound like Mickey. First his letters stopped. Now Gino hadn’t seen him. Something stunk, and I had to find out what. ‘You think he’s okay?’
Gino shrugged, ‘Maybe he’s got himself as new dish.’”
When Jake and Mickey leave Mickey’s office after Jake has visited the private club, things turn deadly fast. Mickey is gunned down before his very eyes and Jake is badly wounded in a scene straight out of some gangster film. It’s a scene that makes no sense at all.
Jake is startled when he gets out of the hospital to find Laura going through the files in Mickey’s office. When he confronts her about it, she’s very evasive. WTH is going on? This is not the Laura he’s known all his life. Why is she telling him to leave it alone, just like his ex-partner did? It makes no sense. Jake is determined to get to the bottom of all of these things that don’t add up and, the more people try to steer him away from it, the more determined he becomes to find Mickey’s killer.
Soon he and Laura are up to their necks in serious, deadly trouble. Not only do they have to worry about gangsters and uber-wealthy Wall Street/banking crooks but this hidden-in-plain-sight conspiracy may have deadly implications leading all the way to the White House, with consequences that could destroy the entire country. WTH have they gotten themselves into this time and can they find a way to stop it before it stops them cold?
Jake and Laura are a wonderful detective team, even if they have had a falling out when the novel begins. I know that’s a spoiler but, hey, the series is called the Jake and Laura Mystery Series for a reason – doh. Their push-pull chemistry is very reminiscent of 1930’s and 1940’s relationship films, and adds fun romantic tension to an already suspenseful tale. I love that Dashiell Hammett, Cole Porter, Babe Ruth, and even a young Ethel Merman make “on screen” appearances, adding not just historical detail but a fun entertainment industry element to the story.
The villains in The Yankee Club really made me think even more about how history repeats itself when we become complacent, and just get on with our lives. The villains in this tale accurately portray the disproportionate power the uber-wealthy held that led to the Great Depression, the destruction it caused most U.S. citizens, and demonstrated that those forces have again gained disproportionate power in the 21st century. I sure wish those kinds of battles didn’t have to be fought over and over again – ugh. A country of the people and for the people to me means all the people, not a select few who believe they can buy anyone and anything. End of soapbox…
I know we normally work with publishers but every once in a while I find an indie published novel I just love and that is the case here. I definitely loved The Yankee Club and I believe Michael Murphy has written a very fun historical mystery series that equals anything I’ve read from established publishers. It is a quasi-homage to Dashiell Hammett and yet it stands on its own. Now that I’ve read the first two books, I’m looking forward to Book #3, which I hope is being written fast and furiously right now. I can’t wait to see what Jake and Laura get up to next!
Can’t wait to read it?
The Yankee Club was published on August 12, 2014, so it’s available from your favorite online booksellers below (or in the right column for iBooks).
Please note: This is available in e-book format only, and it’s a real bargain at only $2.99! No worries if you don’t have an e-reader, you can download a free app to read it on your computer, tablet, or smart phone.
I’d love to get your comments on The Yankee Club, Michael Murphy or his other work, and/or this review.
Click here to read our review of Book #2 in this series, All That Glitters.
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