Schellman, Katharine. Last Call at the Nightingale. New York: Minotaur Books, 2022.
ISBN-13: 978-1250831828 | $27.99 USD | 312 pages | Historical Mystery
First in a captivating Jazz age mystery series from author Katharine Schellman, Last Call at the Nightingale beckons readers into a darkly glamorous speakeasy where music, liquor, and secrets flow.
New York, 1924. Vivian Kelly’s days are filled with drudgery, from the tenement lodging she shares with her sister to the dress shop where she sews for hours every day.
But at night, she escapes to The Nightingale, an underground dance hall where illegal liquor flows and the band plays the Charleston with reckless excitement. With a bartender willing to slip her a free glass of champagne and friends who know the owner, Vivian can lose herself in the music. No one asks where she came from or how much money she has. No one bats an eye if she flirts with men or women as long as she can keep up on the dance floor. At The Nightingale, Vivian forgets the dangers of Prohibition-era New York and finds a place that feels like home.
But then she discovers a body behind the club, and those dangers come knocking.
Caught in a police raid at the Nightingale, Vivian discovers that the dead man wasn’t the nameless bootlegger he first appeared. With too many people assuming she knows more about the crime than she does, Vivian finds herself caught between the dangers of the New York’s underground and the world of the city’s wealthy and careless, where money can hide any sin and the lives of the poor are considered disposable…including Vivian’s own.
Last Call at the Nightingale caught my attention due to the cover, setting, and a basic idea of the premise. I’ve read some books set in the time period before, and it’s not even the first mystery I’ve read with this setting, but I feel Katherine Schellman explores how the underworld of the speakeasies and the clandestine sale and distribution of alcohol can make the perfect backdrop for a murder mystery. There’s a subtle sense of the setting without really beating you over the head with it, highlighting some of the contradictory social norms of the day, especially in regards to women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people.
Vivian is a compelling lead, who is already struggling to get by and dealing with poverty and abuse from her boss as the book begins. The Nightingale speakeasy provides her a safe haven to be herself and have fun, although that’s also where she finds a dead body, and becomes determined to investigate, even if it makes her a target. Vivian is pretty good at thinking on her feet, and while she starts off pretty naïve, she grows over the course of the book to more skillfully navigate these situations.
I did feel the pacing was a weak point at times, as sometimes the mystery felt less developed and sometimes took a backseat to the other elements of the book. However, I did more or less enjoy what the book had to offer.
I liked this book overall, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical mysteries.
Katharine Schellman is a former actor and one-time political consultant. These days, she writes the Lily Adler Mysteries (Crooked Lane Books) and the Nightingale Mysteries (Minotaur/St. Martin’s Press). Last Call at the Nightingale, her newest release, is a Publishers Weekly Summer Reads Pick for 2022 and a BookPage Most Anticipated Mystery & Suspense Book of 2022. Her debut novel, The Body in the Garden, was one of Suspense Magazine’s Best Books of 2020 and led to her being named one of BookPage’s 16 Women to Watch in 2020. Its sequel, Silence in the Library, was praised as “worthy of Agatha Christie or Rex Stout.” (Library Journal, starred review) Katharine lives and writes in the mountains of Virginia in the company of her husband, children, and the many houseplants she keeps accidentally murdering.
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