During Prohibition in 1920s Galveston, the Island was called the "Free State of Galveston" due to its lax laws and laissez faire attitude toward gambling, girls and bootlegging. Young society reporter Jasmine (Jazz) Cross longs to cover hard news, but she's stuck between two clashing cultures: the world of gossip and glamour vs. gangsters and gamblers.
After Downtown Gang leader Johnny Jack Nounes is released from jail, all hell breaks loose: Prohibition Agent James Burton’s life is threatened and he must go into hiding for his own safety. But when he’s framed for murder, he and Jazz must work together to prove his innocence. Johnny Jack blames Jasmine’s half-brother Sammy Cook, owner of the Oasis speakeasy, for his arrest and forces him to work overtime in a variety of dangerous mob jobs as punishment.
When a bookie is murdered, Jazz looks for clues linking the two murders and delves deeper into the underworld of gambling: poker games, slot machines and horse-racing. Meanwhile, Jazz tries to keep both Burton and her brother safe, and alive, while they face off against a common enemy.
Check out the special excerpt from Gamblers, Gold-Diggers and Guns:
At the Rusty Bucket, I followed close behind, pretending I was a real crime reporter, looking straight ahead so the police and newshounds wouldn’t try to shut me out.
Sure enough, a couple of cops tried to block my way but I simply replied, “I’m with the Gazette,” as if that explained everything. When we entered the bar, I noticed obvious signs of a struggle: tables and chairs knocked over, broken glasses, papers strewn about. Right by the front door, in all its gleaming glory, sat a brand-new nickel slot machine, a one-armed bandit displaying diamonds, spades, hearts, horseshoes and a cracked Liberty bell.
A huddle of newshawks stared at the floor and I could see the figure of a man, lying by the new machine, arms at odd angles, but I was too far away to determine his cause of death.
“Coming through,” Nathan said, forcing his way into the circle . Edging closer, I could barely make out the victim’s face—a plain man in his mid-forties, sandy hair, freckled skin.
As I changed positions, I saw a huge gaping hole in his skull, hair caked with blood and bone. My stomach lurched and I covered my mouth with both hands, trying not to upchuck.
By the man’s side lay a bloodied baseball bat—the weapon of choice for thugs and cowards and enforcers who liked to use threats and intimidation to make their point. Why would the killers leave the bloody baseball bat in plain sight, next to the victim?
Across the room, Mack stared at me, stone-faced, with an “I told you so” glare. Feeling dizzy, I made my way across the room and sat down at a small table by the piano. No one seemed to notice as I went behind the counter, searching the ice-box for water. I gulped it down, then pressed the frosty glass against my perspiring face, enjoying the cool sensation.
Still shaky, I sat down at the table, observing the crime scene from a safe distance: the reporters taking notes, badgering the sheriff for information, an M.E. squatting by the body, taking samples of hair and blood. That’s when I saw it, half-hidden under the player piano bench: An almost-new Stetson, slightly scuffed, with a clean bullet hole in the crown.
Was I hallucinating or was that Agent Burton’s Stetson under the player piano? And what in hell was it doing at this murder scene?
Copyright 2014 Ellen Mansoor Collier
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About the Author
Ellen Mansoor Collier is a Houston-based freelance magazine writer and editor whose articles and essays have been published in a variety of national magazines. Several of her short stories have appeared in Woman's World. During college summers, she worked as a reporter for a Houston community newspaper and as a cocktail waitress, both jobs providing background experience for her Jazz Age mysteries. A flapper at heart, she's worked as a magazine editor/writer, and in advertising and public relations (plus endured a hectic semester as a substitute teacher).
She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Magazine Journalism and served on UTmost, the college magazine and as president of WICI (Women in Communications). FLAPPERS, FLASKS AND FOUL PLAY is her first novel, published in 2012, followed by the sequel, BATHING BEAUTIES, BOOZE AND BULLETS, released in May 2013. She lives in Houston with her husband and Chow mutts, and visits Galveston whenever possible.