After building a fortune in Kentucky breeding racehorses, Ambrose Sawyer and his wife Florence decide to spend the summer of 1921 in Chicago so that their 20-year-old daughter Nelly can enter its high society. The Sawyers, regarded as the richest Black family in America, seek the right social position for Nelly, which includes finding a suitable husband. Nelly is interested in social issues and becoming a full-fledged journalist. An opportunity to write under her own name is offered to her if she can submit an exposé of a mysterious criminal called the Mayor of Maxwell Street, who is running the local gangs. Nelly is befriended by Jay Shorey, a man she met at her brother's funeral. Jay, who is bi-racial and had a sad upbringing, manages a local speakeasy and seems to turn up wherever Nelly goes. Jay reluctantly agrees to help Nelly with her story. As the two get close to one another, Nelly finds herself the object of the affection of the perfect suitor - Tomás Escalante y Roche, a polo player whose father is a wealthy landowner in Mexico and has a French uncle with a royal title he will inherit. Nelly's interest in Chicago's criminal gangs and the man behind them is putting everyone around her in danger.
The Mayor of Maxwell Street is author Avery Cunningham's debut. And it's an impressive one. While the book is on the long side and was a bit slow at times, Cunningham's talent shines through with her vivid depiction of Prohibition-era, Jazz-age Chicago and the racial inequality of the time. With the exception of Tomás, the main characters are flawed and often not easy to like. Some of the plot developments felt a bit hard to fathom but I didn't let that get too much in the way. This was an engaging story and I look forward to what comes next from the author.
Many thanks to Hyperion Avenue | Disney Publishing for providing an advance copy.
Rated 3.75 out of 5 stars.
Publication Date: January 30, 2024.
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