In the wee hours of Saturday night, I finished Matt Cost’s latest offering, Velma Gone Awry. It’s an historical mystery set in 1920’s New York featuring a private detective with the unlikely name of 8 Ballo. Don’t worry. You get used to it.
Opening this book, I experienced the sensation that Woody Allen’s character must have felt in Midnight in Paris. You know, that film with Owen Wilson playing a writer named Gil who starts walking around modern-day Paris and finds himself magically transported into the 1920s where he encounters the likes of Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Picasso. At every step, around every corner, Gil meets some famous historic figure, leading him on an adventure that teaches him a few things about the futility of nostalgia and embracing the here and now.
I say nostalgia’s just fine. We have these magical implements that allow us to go back and forth at will and with no harm to us at all: books.
Like the Allen film, Velma Gone Awry plops us into a world populated by Roaring Twenties luminaries. As private eye 8 Ballo tries to find a devious, slippery-to-catch, smoky-eyed flapper by the name of Velma Hartmann, he encounters people from every walk of life: baseball players, gangsters, jazz musicians, immigrants, business tycoons, and writers. Here are the Fitzgeralds again, entertaining out on rural Long Island (with a sneaky surprise guest appearance by a certain unforgettable character. Pay attention there!) Then it’s off to a jazz club to hear Coleman Hawkins and then uptown to the Algonquin to sip a gin cocktail or two with the queen of snark, Dorothy Parker, and her Round Table.
Because coming across these characters as you read is half the fun, I’ll drop no more names.
The plot of Velma Gone Awry twists and turns, of course. What seems like a simple assignment to find a man’s missing daughter turns into something much more sinister. And because there are gangsters involved, there’s plenty of danger. 8 Ballo is a big, strong hero who served in the trenches of WWI, carries himself with plenty of confidence, and thinks some big thoughts without getting carried away by them. Basically he wants to get the job done and make sure the bad guys get their comeuppance.
With good pacing (maybe one scene too many nearing the end), fun characters, lingo appropriate to the time period, and descriptions and social-cultural references anchoring the reader in 8’s and Velma’s world, Cost makes excellent use of his background in history and in mystery writing here. He has several standalone historicals and two other mystery series behind him, and his experience shows in this new book. There were even a couple of sex scenes, which I thought Cost handled skillfully. Nothing cringy and rather tender.
If the overall style and point of view were a little masculine for my tastes, that’s not the author’s problem. He is a guy after all. I’ve never been a huge fan of Hemingway, probably for the same reason, but I do like Cost’s stories. I’ll definitely read more of this series as it unfolds. I’m not sure if Velma will show up in subsequent books, but I sure do hope for more Dorothy Parker!
To see all of Cost’s books, including Velma Gone Awry which comes out in April, and to pre-order go to Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/stores/Matt-Cost/author/B08L3XFQWT
I am not an Amazon affiliate. I read the ARC in exchange for a fair and honest interview.
Praise for FINAL DRAFT!
My debut mystery novel, FINAL DRAFT: An Olivia Lively Mystery is getting rave reviews so far! What’s the buzz all about? Read below.
When graduate writing student Cooper Tedeschi begs private eye Olivia Lively to prove that his professor, one of the most famous novelists in the country, stole Cooper’s manuscript, Liv plunges into the competitive world of academia.
Meanwhile, Liv’s latest romantic mistake’s stalking her, her socialite mother’s trying to hook her up with a commitment-minded cardiologist, and her best friend’s struggling to start a family and is totally fed up with Liv’s drama.
As the plagiarism case grows more complicated and her private life more confusing, Liv learns the line between truth and fiction–not to mention right and wrong–is not always clearly defined.
Final Draft is a quirky, character-driven redemption story wrapped in a mystery, tied with a rom-com bow.
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Thanks so much, Shelley