“Murder in the Brothel Garden: A Conner Miles Mystery” by Steven D. Malone, Amazon, 2018, $15
“Murder in the Brothel Garden: A Conner Miles Mystery” by Steven D. Malone is a marvelous historic novel presented through the ethnic vernacular dialogue of a 23-year-old relocated from Arkansas, Conner Miles. Malone slips the reader into the Roaring 20s. The free state of Galveston, the multicultural and multiple lifestyles flow like a supple spring evening breeze off the Gulf. Today’s BOI’s (born on the island) and IBC’s (islanders by choice) will feel at home.
Soft core crime characters abound. Handmaiden, blonde Miss Dianne Star, the brothel owner and her friend Contrary Mary, the tall handsome woman dressed in a tux, armed with a knife. Tony “Papa” Regelo, Conner’s boss and the rest of the Beaches, not the sand, the gang. Rose and Sam Maceo with wine women and gambling. The illegal booze brothers’ gang.
And the disheveled young woman, Livia, tears smearing her mascara, a wreck, who announces to Conner, “I am one of her whores.” Livia discovered the murdered man tonight in the handmaiden’s garden.
Conner’s job is to clean up the mess. Find the killer of the patron of “colored” women, the attorney, Peter Godines and report back to Miss Dianne. Conner wonders how to find “the bastard that did this.”
“Miss Dianne,” I started. “I may be ignorant of all this but it seems to me it’s a hunt. I hunt. The hardest things to hunt up home are chicken-killing coyotes… You find the trail and chase ‘em down.”
Conner and his buddy Bobbie Lee follow the trail first to the widow Godines, embarrassed by her husband, then to the KKK at night, the good Rev. Love. On to Seaway Shipping owner, entrepreneur Frank Ney. What about the Moody’s, Kempner’s Sugarland, the “colored” union officials and other leads with Galveston characters? Land deals on the beach and muscled money, it all feels normal.
Miss Dianne had Conner take Livia with him as the killer may have seen her at the scene. The boys treat Livia like a lady who soon teases Conner into bed, like the best burlesque dancer ever could. Why? To convince him she didn’t do it or puppy love?
Livia’s and Conner’s adventures are trips to the Rosenberg Library, the Martini movie house and Joyland, the pleasure pier of the time, trips to the deserted far West End beaches and reading The Daily News.
Then bullets start flying at Conner. A gang turf war breaks out death for death; “Papa” is one life traded. Conner takes out one assassin in a massive car crash in the ensuing three-way shootout involving the police, who take credit for killing the bad guy. Rose and Sam Maceo have Conner’s back, often unseen.
The end comes quickly, in the best Agatha Christie tradition, all is revealed at a gala with Conner in a new suit, attended by all the major suspects. Who did it and why? That young prostitute who found the body? The wife? The mean maid? Rev. Love? Land speculator? Union? One of the gangs? The list is long. The answer convoluted satisfaction; much like Galveston