I love history, and when you add “mystery” to the description, I’m hooked. I had the opportunity to read Skye Alexander’s latest story, The Goddess of Shipwrecked Sailors, which is now out from Level Best Books. It’s sensational. Set in December 1925, the mystery follows Lizzie Crane, part of The Troubadours, a talented entertainment group of four—also Bert, Sidney and Melody—who’ve been hired for twelve days over Christmas by the wealthy Matthew and Abigail Gardner of Salem, Massachusetts. They’re to sing and dance their way through holiday entertainment for the Gardner family’s many wealthy friends. This gig could get their feet in the door to more business.
While staying at the Gardner mansion, Lizzie explores Salem and overhears a suspicious argument between her benefactor, Gardner, and a man she doesn’t know. It appears to be over a woman. She later finds out the mystery man is a cousin of hers, Jacob Watkins, whose father began a tavern in Salem after surviving a 19th century shipwreck of one of the Gardner family ships. Then another man, Nickolas Owens, turns up dead in the same area. Lizzie’s curiosity leads her into danger when she investigates the murder and the mysterious cousin who seems to be deeply involved in dark dealings. Did he have a hand in the murder?
At the same time, the Gardners have hopes that their daughter Sarah will marry a Boston socialite named Alan Peabody. But once he lays eyes on Lizzie, all thoughts of Sarah are dashed. Lizzie is a perfect Roaring Twenties heroine who dances, loves beautiful clothes, and pushes the envelope. Peabody can’t help but be fascinated by such a liberated woman. Will she stay a free spirit or consider marriage to this attractive man? But Peabody’s interest has caused jealousy in those around Lizzie, and accidents begin to plague her health and very life. Will she survive to sing another day?
Throughout Alexander’s book, the risky and profitable clipper ships bringing tea, silk, spices, opium, and porcelain form a 19th-century backdrop of wealth and gambling. Salem’s history with Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Chestnut Street mansions weaves their way through the narrative. Smuggling tunnels beneath the town bring in another element of risk and danger.
At the same time, Alexander skillfully captures the milieu of the Roaring Twenties, Prohibition, motorcars, and the Jazz Age. Lizzie’s group sings and dances their way through songs by Ira and George Gershwin, Broadway tunes, Stephen Foster, and Louis Armstrong. The musical chatelaines wear cloche hats, knickers, heavy wool coats, and have the latest bobbed hairstyles. Their slang epitomizes the spirit of the times: “A bit of gin-ski,” “You’re in-ski,” and “Ish Kabibble.” Seances and Tarot cards are in vogue. The Gardner mansion surrounds them with Chippendale sofas, Celadon-colored silk on walls, lacquered Oriental screens, and always jade and porcelain.
Skye Alexander’s characters are realistic, intriguing, and filled with adventure. The Goddess of Shipwrecked Sailors is the perfect historical mystery, steeped in the Jazz Age, and filled with plot twists and turns. Fortunately for readers, it’s only the beginning of more thrills for Lizzie Crane and her admirers as the series continues.
You can find The Goddess of Shipwrecked Sailors at Amazon here