The jazz age, Chicago, and murder – read Sugarland

I’m happy to introduce Martha Conway and her new book, Sugarland: A Jazz Age Mystery, to my Choices readers as part of her WOW! Women on Writing virtual book (blog) tour.


About Sugarland: In 1921, two women, a black jazz pianist named Eve and a white nurse named Lena, join forces after a drive-by shooting nearly kills them. Eve is looking for her missing stepsister, and Lena wants to find out who murdered her brother, a petty bootlegger killed in the shooting. Sugarland recently received a Reader’s Favorite Book Award.


Genre: Historical Fiction
Hardcover: 314 pages (also available in paperback and e-book)
Noontime Books: June 1, 2016
ISBN: 978-0991618552

marthaconwayauthorpicAbout the author: Martha Conway’s debut novel 12 Bliss Street (St. Martin’s Minotaur) was nominated for an Edgar Award while Thieving Forest won an Independent Publishers Book Award, the Laramie Award, a Reader’s Choice Award and the 2014 North American Book Award in Historical Fiction. Her short fiction has appeared in The Iowa Review, The Mississippi Review, The Quarterly, Folio, Puerto del Sol, Carolina Quarterly, and other publications.

Martha graduated from Vassar College and received her master’s degree in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. She has reviewed fiction for the San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Review of Books, and The Iowa Review. The recipient of a California Arts Council fellowship in Creative Writing, she has taught at UC Berkeley Extension and Stanford University’s Online Writers’ Studio.

To find out more about Martha and Sugarland click on these online sites:

Martha’s Website
Martha’s Blog
Martha’s Facebook page
And on Twitter

You can purchase Sugarland at Amazon and your local independent bookstore

My review of Sugarland: Sugarland A Jazz Age Mystery, by Martha Conway is a suspenseful and historical fiction story about jazz and murder, boot legging and gangsters, and family and friends that takes place in the Chicago of the 1920s.

I was interested in reading Sugarland because I’ve written a novel that takes place in the prohibition era in Chicago in the 1920s as well. But my novel, though also historical fiction, is very different from Conway’s. Mine is totally devoid of jazz, murder, and gangsters.

I think Conway did an excellent job researching the time in history she writes about especially the jazz music scene. She describes in detail how jazz piano is played as two jazz musicians teach an otherwise accomplished musician how to play in that style. She writes:

¦All right, Eve said. For this music you need to strike the keys differently. Your hands should be flatter, more like sticks. Hard loud chords, that’s what you’re after. Eve moved Lena’s fingers into position. The piano was pale brown, old but polished, with yellowing keys. Nothing dainty. How a man would hit the keys. You’ve got large hands, that’ll help…

¦Ragtime jazz, jass, hot music there were so many names for it. ˜Don’t drop your wrists below the key-board,’ Eve said. She moved Lena’s hands again. ˜Flatten those fingers. Now lean your body forward; get some weight pressing on those keys. Let’s try a two-beat¦’

In those days the African-American musicians were a big part of jazz world. And so it was only natural that the main characters in the book: Eve, a talented jazz pianist; Eve’s stepsister Chickie, a jazz singer, and Henry, also a jazz musician, are African-Americans. They work together with Lena, a white woman who befriends them, nurses Eve, and delivers Chickie’s baby as they try to solve the murderous crimes they have become involved in. Lena ignores the dirty looks of people on buses and on the streets because she is with an African-American friend. I found that aspect of the novel very sensitive and insightful as Conway describes the racial tensions of the time.

Sugarland is a fast and great read. Jazz, murder, prohibition, and gangsters involved in gun smuggling and booze set in Chicago’s south side. What more could a reader want?



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