ABOUT THE BOOKBefore Las Vegas, Galveston, Texas was called the “Sin City of the Southwest.” Real-life rival gangs fight over booze and bars during Prohibition in this soft-boiled Jazz Age mystery, inspired by actual events. Jasmine Cross, a 21-year-old society reporter, feels caught between two clashing cultures: the seedy speakeasy underworld and the snooty social circles she covers in the Galveston Gazette. After a big-shot banker with a hidden past collapses at the Oasis—a speakeasy secretly owned by her black-sheep half-brother, Sammy Cook—Jazz suspects foul play. Was it an accident or a mob hit? Soon handsome young Prohibition Agent James Burton raids the Oasis, threatening to shut it down if Sammy doesn’t cooperate. Suspicious, he pursues Jazz, hoping for information and more, but despite her mixed feelings she refuses to rat on Sammy. As turf wars escalate between the Downtown and Beach gangs, Sammy is accused of murder. To find the killer, Jazz must risk her life and career, exposing the dark side of Galveston’s glittering society.
EXCERPT FROM FLAPPERS, FLASKS AND FOUL PLAYOutside, I felt safe among the throng of people and automobiles passing by in a rush.
“How was lunch?” In broad daylight, Prohibition Agent James Burton didn’t seem quite as menacing or intimidating. A group of nosy reporters peered out the newsroom, ogling us like we were a penny arcade peep show.
“Fine.” I crossed my arms, partly to cover my growling stomach.
“Sorry to barge in.” He tugged on his hat. “But I had to get your attention. You wouldn’t give me the time of day the other night.”
“Can you blame me? A raid isn’t exactly the best way to meet new people.”
“I think we got off on the wrong foot.” Burton stuck his hands in his pockets, jingling some change. “Perhaps we can talk over dinner, instead of standing out here on the sidewalk?”
Was he serious? “Dinner? Just like that?” I snapped my fingers. “You waltz in as if you owned the place—like you did at the Oasis—and expect me to dine out with you, a total stranger, because of your badge? You’ve got a lot of nerve, mister.”
“I wouldn’t be a Prohibition agent if I didn’t.” He looked smug. “How about tonight?”
“Tonight? I usually work late.”
“Every night? Don’t they let you off for good behavior?”
“For starters, I hardly know you and what I do know, I don’t like at all.” I squinted in the sun. “And I don’t appreciate the way you bullied us at the Oasis that night. I thought people were innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around.” I wasn’t usually so bold and blunt with strangers, especially lawmen. Maybe it was his youth, or maybe I’d finally found my moxie.
“You must mean Sammy. Fair enough.” He held up his hands. “If it makes you feel any better, my gun wasn’t loaded that night.”
“Small comfort now, after you scared everyone half to death.”
GUEST POST BY ELLEN MANSOOR COLLIER
JUST THE FACTS, MA’AM
I’ll admit, I was never much of a history buff in high school or college. What did Ancient Egypt or the Civil War have to do with my daily life of classes, jobs, Student Council, football games, parties or dances? Although my mother was a World History teacher, I wasn’t at all interested until I managed an antiques shop after college between journalism jobs.
My bosses were two antiques dealers and decorators who took me on buying trips and taught me about different styles and period design. Antiques gave me a visual peek into the past: I could see the way people lived, touch their clothing, furniture, understand their habits and trends. Suddenly, for me, history came alive.
That glimpse led to a fascination with the Roaring Twenties. I loved almost everything about the 1920s: the style, the carefree spirit, interior design, the flowing flapper clothes and jewelry, the lingo, the music. Not only did the right to vote in 1920 allow women’s emancipation, the “Dry Decade” became an era of invention and innovation, the “flaming youth’s” rebellion against the stuffy old Victorian mores, leading to the giddy excitement of the Jazz Age.
I tried to convey that sense of freedom and “anything goes” attitude in my soft-boiled Jazz Age mystery series, through the POV of my main character Jasmine (“Jazz”) Cross, a society reporter who longs to cover hard news in a male-dominated world. Her ambition is thwarted by her old-fashioned editors, yet she’s determined to find ways around the newspaper’s rules and restrictions. I created Jazz as a flapper version of real-life Victorian journalist Nellie Bly, and set the novels during Prohibition in 1920s Galveston, Texas, interweaving actual gangsters, events and local landmarks into the plots.
While researching Flappers, I became intrigued when I found out that Al Capone tried to muscle in on Galveston’s rival gangs, the Beach and Downtown gangs. I included this fun fact in the preface to show the powerful reach and reputation of Galveston’s gangsters, little known outside of Texas.
As a journalist, I prefer reality-based stories because I feel like I’m learning something new while I’m reading and researching. I enjoyed watching old silent movies, period dramas and documentaries, especially noir films featuring gangsters and mobsters, noting the settings (furniture, lamps, clothing, music, etc.) and jotted down expressions and bits of conversation. (True, I’m guilty of overusing Jazz Age sayings so I included a glossary of slang in the back of my novels.)
Since I wrote about real people, politicians (and gangsters), I had to be careful not to include anything too offensive or incriminating since much of the information was based on legend and largely undocumented.
What’s interesting is that the gangsters and bootleggers of yesteryear mirror today’s drug dealers, gangs and cartels. Still, I learned a lot about organized crime, politics and Prohibition, and how often their worlds intermingled.
History may repeat itself, but fiction makes it fresh and new. Enjoy!
NOTE FROM ELLENHappy New Year! To celebrate, I've just released a newly-revised version of Flappers, Flasks and Foul Play, the first novel in my Jazz Age series, originally published in 2012. It's only $2.99 this week–regularly $4.99. Enjoy!
ABOUT THE AUTHOREllen Mansoor Collier is a Houston-based freelance writer and editor whose articles, essays and short stories have been published in a variety of national magazines. She's interviewed Suze Orman and Nancy Brinker and several unsung heroines for Biography and Family Circle magazines. In the 1990s, she reviewed mysteries for The Houston Chronicle, which was like a crash course in writing novels.
A flapper at heart, she's worked as a magazine editor/writer, and in advertising and public relations (plus endured a hectic semester as a substitute teacher). Between journalism jobs, she managed an antiques shop, leading to a fascination with the 1920s and Art Deco design. During college summers, she worked as a reporter for a Houston community newspaper and once served as a cocktail waitress, both jobs providing background experience for her Jazz Age mysteries.
She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Magazine Journalism and was an editor/writer on UTmost, the college magazine. During her senior year, she served as the president of WICI (Women in Communications).
Flappers, Flasks and Foul Play is her first novel, published in 2012, followed by the sequel, Bathing Beauties, Booze and Bullets, released in 2013. Gold Diggers, Gamblers and Guns came out in May 2014, followed by Vamps, Villains and Vaudeville In 2015.
Collier lives in Houston with her engineer husband and hyperactive Chow/Shepherd mutts, and visits Galveston whenever possible. "When you grow up in Houston, Galveston becomes like a second home. I had no idea this sleepy beach town had such a wild and colorful past, and became fascinated by the legends and stories of the 1920s."
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