Mysterious Press/ Open Road Integrated Media, PB $14.99, 220 pages, ISBN 978-1-4532-7095-0
For many crime fiction fans, the Prohibition Era of the 1920s and the Great Depression in the 30s holds an intense fascination that, even now, almost one hundred years later, captivates our collective imaginations. The gangster age as it became known, really began at the end of the Great War—the first mechanized conflict and the largest war the world had ever known. Then came the Roaring Twenties, with the Jazz Age, the stock market crash, and of course, the Volstead Act, or Prohibition, which gave rise to the golden age of crime, speakeasys, bathtub gin and an entire nation of scofflaws, determined to have a readily available supply of adult beverages whenever they wanted. All the while, stock prices on the NYSE were rising to new highs on a weekly basis . . . until the great crash of 1929, which ushered in The Great Depression of the 1930s, and world upheaval.
Against that colorful background and the kidnapping of the Lindberg baby, comes a new novel that recalls the essence of the period in a fast, afternoon and evening read. Jimmy the Stick, by Michael Mayo, revisits “those thrilling days of yesteryear,” when prohibition was the law of the land. The fictional Jimmy Quinn, better known as Jimmy the Stick because he uses a cane to support a bum knee, was a highly placed mobster and a known gunman during the New York City Beer Wars of the Roaring Twenties, associating with the likes of Myer Lansky, Charlie ‘Lucky’ Luciano, Owney Madden, Dutch Schultz and Vincent ‘Mad Dog’ Coll. The murder of Arnold Rothstein in 1928 and a bullet in the leg ended Jimmy’s career. Now, in the spring of 1932, he’s been called out of retirement by his boyhood pal and criminal running mate, Walter Spencer. Spencer’s gone legit—he’s married into the Pennyweight Petroleum family, the father of an infant boy, and he needs a favor from Jimmy. The Lindberg baby has just been kidnapped. The Spencer’s are afraid that they’re next on the kidnapper’s list, and Walter has to leave town to negotiate some oil drilling leases. He asks Jimmy to guard his wife and baby while he’s away. With Spencer gone, Jimmy is quickly up to his neck with the bizarre goings-on in the Pennywright mansion, trying to protect the family in spite of themselves and keep hard criminals from his former life out of the picture. Any fan of the Prohibition and Gangster Eras, as I am, will find it a fun and entertaining read. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a great introduction that will leave you hungry for more.