While performing in vaudeville in 1919 San Francisco, ambitious blues chanteuse Viola Vermillion’s piano player and lover Stu Wiley is murdered in the Pantages Theater balcony. With her own gun. To remain out of jail, Viola is forced to uncover Stu’s secret past and figure out which one of his lies got him killed.
Viola’s got secrets of her own, of course. Like the encrypted notebook in her possession, which really belongs to the munitions tycoon who caused her sister’s death. Then there’s her surprising attraction to her hot new piano player Jimmy Harrigan, who—unknown to Viola—is employed by the munitions tycoon.
As Viola unravels multiple secrets, lies, and suspicions, she still holds tight to her dream of reaching the vaudeville Big Time. But to succeed at anything, first she needs to stay alive . . .
Book Buy Link: https://geni.us/4ZRQbpu
Ana Brazil writes historical crime fiction that celebrates bodacious American heroines.
Her debut Gilded Age mystery FANNY NEWCOMB AND THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER won the IBPA 2018 Gold Medal for Historical Fiction.
Ana’s short story heroines are featured in “Kate Chopin Tussles with a Novel Ending” (FAULT LINES: STORIES BY NORTHERN CALIFORNIA CRIME WRITERS), “Miss Evelyn Nesbit Presents” (ME TOO SHORT STORIES: AN ANTHOLOGY), and “Mr. Borden does not quite remem—” Kings River Life).
Ana blogs about historical and mystery topics at www.anabrazil.com and is a founding member of the Paper Lantern Writers Collective of historical fiction writers (www.paperlanternwriters.com).
Stu covered my eyes with his long fingers and I couldn’t see anything.
“No cheating,” he whispered against my ear.
I was trying not to look, but since we stood across from the Pantages Theater, I’d already guessed what the surprise was. I tingled from head to toe, barely able to stand still. “A-a-a-a-and now, ladies and gentlemen.”
Stu’s voice reached almost stage level, as though he was trying to command the people rushing past us on the sidewalk to stop and enjoy the show. “Pre-e-e-sen-ting . . . the Pride of the Pantages.”
He removed his hands. Slowly. “You can look now, Vi.”
He Red-Hot Blues Chanteuse from Ana Brazil delivers a colorful and beautiful look into the past. It’s Spring of 1919 and we begin with a showing of the All-Star Acts at Pantages Theater in San Francisco. Our main character, Viola Vermillion, the Red-Hot Blues Chanteuse is introduced, her name on the marquee. It was a special, life-changing moment for her, courtesy of Stu.
From this very first chapter we learn a lot about Stu and Viola, their relationship, how he helped her get her voice back after she almost died from the flu, and how he writes hit songs for her to really show off her talents.
Readers are pulled into the moment, into the excitement of Viola seeing her name in lights for the first time, her relationship to Stu, and what this truly means for the both of them. From their affectionate nicknames for one another, we are able to see the intimacy between the pair.
As quickly as the excitement came, we see all-too-common feelings of doubt creeping up on our protagonist. Her big shot was finally here! But what if the audience didn’t think she was “red-hot”? We learn early on that this is a big deal for Viola. They’ve put all they have into coming here to chase a dream. It’s a classic story of the American Dream, and you feel the emotion from the very start, wanting to root for her success.
The character development is done so eloquently throughout this story. Early on, we learn that Viola is hiding some dark secrets of her own, even from her love, Stuart. Something happened to her back in New Jersey; something that made her bring Mademoiselle Savage with her out west.
Before Chapter Three, we learn that her beloved Stu may have some secrets of his own. Working hard and waiting her big break, things don’t always go as planned for Viola. The way the story is outlined keeps the air of mystery in place, and the reader on the edge of their seat to find out what’s happening next, all with perfect continuity and careful timing.
Remembering those happy days on the road, the chill that threaded through my body began to thaw. I opened my coat and exposed my new springtime dress, a sweet mint-green georgette frock with a demure neckline.
The detective turned from Mr. Z and back to me. “Where were you this afternoon?”
“I had breakfast around noon at Fong’s Café next door.”
“Was Mr. Wiley with you?”
“Was he with you after breakfast?”
“After breakfast at noon,” snickered one of the suits standing near the door.
I ignored the insult, thinking only of those magical moments just a few hours ago when Stu and I had gazed at my name on the marquee. “We got to the theater together to prepare for the matinee. I’m a five-song act in the seven spot.” I looked up at Mr. Z, expecting he might want to add something, but his lips were pursed.
“What’d you do after the show? Did you see him then?”
I clutched at a soft tassel of my skirt and resisted the urge to wrap it around my finger. And maybe pluck it out and tear it apart. But then I decided that I could do this. Speak about Stu without going to pieces.
In true mystery-noir fashion, we witness Vi getting grilled by the detectives, and trying to keep her cool. She has an alibi, but will it be enough? We feel the tension with each word as the detectives ream into her and her story, and they question her on Savage. This is where our story arc takes an interesting turn.
Will she be able to get out of this sticky situation? Can she prove her innocence? Will this be her big break, or a big heartbreak?
There’s so much familiarity about this story that draws you in, and yet, it’s refreshingly unique. As new characters are introduced and the story heats up, it becomes a good old-fashioned whodunit! All the while, we’re rooting for our main character to finally get a happy ending she deserves.
At least… we think she deserves it. The writing leaves just enough shadow of doubt that you start to suspect the heroine as well from time-to-time.
Jimmy’s story sounded good. He’d heard many such stories himself during his years of following his father in New Orleans. The trick was to make the story short and give the police something that sent them in a direction away from you.
A few minutes later, a man in plain clothes arrived, introducing himself as Detective Petersen. Jimmy knew who he was, of course, and was doubly glad that Viola was sleeping in Kitty’s room. Jimmy heard one of the patrolmen report, “No note, sir.” He stood in the hallway with the detective and repeated what he’d told the patrolmen.
Now was Jimmy’s moment to explain that Viola had fallen into the bay, been rescued, and spent hours in the Ferry Building before they’d found Rocco here together. Except that he didn’t explain because Viola could tell it better.
Still, because a detective always demanded more story than a flatfoot, Jimmy embellished his. “I don’t know him well. Not at all, really. I just joined the troupe a few days ago.” All that was true, of course, but it was small truths.
To his surprise, Jimmy wanted to tell the detective what a great shot Rocco was. Almost as good as me. “Which act?” asked the detective.
“Viola Vermillion, Red-Hot Blues Chanteuse, sir.”
She’s smart, sassy, and determined. A Bodacious vaudeville songstress, Viola, and this is her story. It’s sometimes a bumpy journey, full of pain and loss, but it paints a beautiful picture to the satisfying ending. Well written, properly edited and formatted, The Red-Hot Blues Chanteuse will pull you in and chew you up – in all the best ways.
“The Red Hot Blues Chanteuse” by Ana Brazil receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company
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