Welcome Guest Susanna Calkins

I’m so glad to welcome Susanna to back to the blog! She’s smart, fun, and one heck of a writer. Here’s a bit about the The Fate Of A Flapper:

After nine months as a cigarette girl at the Third Door, one of Chicago’s premier moonshine parlors, Gina Ricci feels like she’s finally getting into the swing of things. The year is 1929, the Chicago Cubs are almost in the World Series, neighborhood gangs are all-powerful, and though Prohibition is the law of the land, the Third Door can’t serve the cocktails fast enough.

Two women in particular are throwing drinks back with abandon while chatting up a couple of bankers, and Gina can’t help but notice the levels of inebriation and the tension at their table. When the group stumbles out in the early morning, she tries to put them out of her head. But once at home that night, Gina’s sleep is interrupted when her cousin Nancy, a police officer, calls—she’s found a body. Gina hurries over to photograph the crime scene, but stops short when she recognizes the body: it’s one of the women from the night before.

Could the Third Door have served the woman bad liquor? Or, Gina wonders, could this be murder? As the gangs and bombings draw ever closer, all of Chicago starts to feel like a warzone, and Gina is determined to find out if this death was an unlucky accident, or a casualty of combat.

Susanna: When I was contemplating the story I wanted to tell in the second book in my Speakeasy Mysteries—the novel that became The Fate of a Flapper–I turned to the Chicago Daily Tribune for inspiration. I knew that I wanted to set my story around the Great Stock Market Crash which occurred in October 1929, but I wanted to understand what else was going on in Chicago during those last heady days before the glittery Roaring Twenties came to a screeching halt.

Three things struck me, as I read through every edition of the paper. First, the Chicago Cubs were once again in contention for the World Series title, and their victory seemed all but assured. (Spoiler alert—they don’t win). Still it was interesting to see how hopeful they were still, in those early fervent days, and how the series came to a shocking end.

A screenshot that Susanna took of a Chicago Tribune article.

Second, there was an unprecedented number of bombings that occurred throughout Chicago that year. The ability to make simple bombs was a skill that servicemen had learned and brought back from the Great War, and somehow became the brute force weapon of choice by the end of the decade. Banks, jewelry stores, ice cream parlors, private residences were all regularly targeted.  By October 1929 there had been over 100 bombings in that year alone, bringing about the formation of a special police task force, whose charge was to capture and bring to justice these bombers.

The last thing that fascinated me was how the ongoing war with alcohol was playing out every day in Chicago (and throughout the United States). Hundreds of people were still dying of alcohol-related deaths—mostly being poisoned by ‘bad hooch.’ There was obviously no regulation of alcohol—quite the opposite. The federal government had even changed denatured alcohol in 1927 to make it more poisonous to those who sought to convert it something more palatable. At the same time, pharmacies would sell alcohol for medicinal and cleaning purposes, marketed with a ‘poison’ sign on the label, side by side with emetics that could purge someone of poison. Chicago chemists, who had developed portable chemical kits for individuals to test alcohol before consumption, were targeted by federal agents (the ‘Drys.’)

Readers: What kinds of everyday details do you enjoy learning about in the books you read? 

Bio: Susanna Calkins, a historian and educator, writes the award-winning Lucy Campion historical mysteries set in 17th century London and the Speakeasy Murders set in 1920s Chicago. A Philadelphia transplant, she lives in the Chicago area now, with her husband and two sons.  The Fate of a Flapper is her sixth mystery. Check out her website at www.susannacalkins.com.

14 Thoughts

  1. What a great post! Historical research is so fascinating. It’s always interesting to see how things have changed, or not changed, as the case may be. I never would have guessed about the prevalence of bombings back then. Congrats on your new book!

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  2. Yay, Susanna! My copy is ordered.

    I recently read a fascinating book on tuberculosis in the late nineteenth century – and Arthur Conan Doyle’s involvement in looking for a cure! (The Remedy by Thomas Goetz.)

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  3. Bombings make perfect sense, but who would have thought it. Details like that are what attracts me to historical mysteries and historical novels in general.

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  4. Love when an author does their research and portrays times and events accurately. To me it’s interesting to read about things that this country has been through and how they over came whether it’s a disease, event, a person or just the times. Makes one wonder how the pandemic of Covid-19 will be told in books in the future when it’s part of our past history.

    ” The Fate Of A Flapper” sounds like a wonderful story and one I can’t wait for the opportunity to read.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

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  5. There is so much local history from the past that was not common knowledge even then and certainly isn’t now and it really makes reading a book (and especially a cozy mystery) a fun learning experience. It gives a depth of understanding that makes the time period real to me. Thank you for your willingness to delve into periodicals and other media of the time to bring home the realities of the story. I remember hearing stories about my mother’s elder sister who was a “flapper” and considered somewhat “wild.” 😉

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  6. I love all cozies that include details about anything I’m not familiar with, whether historical or current. I just love to learn and what a fun way to do it.

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  7. Welcome back to the Wickeds, Susanna! I love learning about everyday things from another era. This is my grandparent’s era. I remember a trunk my grandmother had in her basement with heavy, beaded flapper dresses in it. I’ve heard many stories, but I’ve found that what we find interesting about history, even when we’re reciting our own, changes with the times. I can’t wait to read The Fate of a Flapper.

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  8. I like learning details about how everyday life was lived – shopping, meal preparation, social interactions. Congratulations on the new release!

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  9. I never know the kinds of details I enjoy reading about in a historical mystery until I stumble upon them. Usually, I like them to be asides that help me feel like I am part of the era. Things like what you talk about here.

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  10. Thanks for visiting the Wickeds today, Susanna! I love details that concern aspects of everyday life that have changed over the years either through advances in technology or cultural values and opinions.

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  11. While I read for pleasure, I enjoy learning historical background facts and about various jobs or crafts related to the story. Stay safe and well.

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  12. Congrats on the latest book, Susanna! (I just saw Erica Ruth Neubauer rave about it on IG and am even more eager to read it now that I’ve read your post today.) As Mark said, I never know the kinds of historical details I like reading about in a historical mystery until I stumble upon them. I’m originally from Racine, WI, 60 miles north of Chicago, and never knew that about all the bombings in the late ’20s! Looking forward to reading your book!

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