by Carmen Radtke
Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win an ebook copy of the first book in the series A Matter of Love and Death, and a link to purchase it.
Writers are world-builders, no matter if it’s a small, intimate portrait of a well-known place or a sprawling epic set in a parallel universe with its own rules and laws of physic.
I’ve never ventured into outer space for a story, but I’ve always been attracted to the past (in itself a foreign place) and to anything different from my childhood.
What could be more exotic and yet familiar enough to understand the characters than Australia? Especially in a different era. As soon as I read that for a few years Australia was only topped by Germany as suffering from the Great Depression, my imagination caught fire.
Most Americans will remember the alcohol ban from 1920 to 1933 that gave rise to bootleggers and organised crime and inspired classic movies like Some Like It Hot.
The Australians put their own slant on it. In 1931 in Australia, boozing was legal until 6 p.m., and a minute later you broke the law. Exceptions could be made for bona fide travelers, if you could come up with an explanation. There were strict rules for who could serve in a bar or hotel designed to protect innocent females. Marriage bars also frequently prevented women from getting employment, even if the husband was out of work.
Things were not looking good. Especially in Adelaide, where the administration honorably but foolishly had insisted on making good on its debts after the Wall Street crash and the resulting worldwide depression. It broke them.
But not everything was gloom and doom. Australians are renowned for their resilience, and these were the days when almost everyone was in the same boat. Neighbors supported each other, and a picnic in the park cost nothing. Music, dancing, and chinwags on the doorsteps lifted spirits, and the pictures (most cinemas had just been converted to talkies) were cheap and popular.
The Top Note, my nightclub which is owned by war veteran Jack Sullivan, wasn’t cheap, but it was affordable, decent, and good fun. I couldn’t wait to return to it after the first Jack and Frances mystery, A Matter of Love and Death, where Jack met our heroine Frances, a telephone exchange operator who overheard hints of a conspiracy. Because her job mandated absolute confidentiality, she couldn’t tell anyone official without risking her job. For someone like Frances, who’s income supports the whole family, including her godfather, the ex-Vaudeville artist Sal, that was a risk she couldn’t take. But someone like Jack, who breaks the law where he has to and yet is the most decent man in town, was someone she could trust, and fall in love with.
That bond between Jack, Frances, Uncle Sal, and their madcap crew of helpers is even more important in their new adventure, Murder at the Races. Australians love horse races and betting. But where there’s money, there’s crooks, and when Frances’ brother Rob, a racecourse veterinarian, becomes a murder suspect, they need to resort to tricks to infiltrate the racecourse …
Just like the Top Note, Morphettville racecourse is a classy place. In 1920, it saw a visit from the Prince of Wales during his Australia tour.
Phar Lap, the world-famous thoroughbred whose untimely death sparked many murder theories, was entered to run in the Adelaide Cup in Morphettville in May 1930, only to be scratched half an hour before the race started. Rumors spread up and down the country, about yet another attempt by bookmakers to nobble the equine sporting idol. Two years later, Phar Lap died in America.
But let us return to more cheerful matters. Turn on the radio, tune in to a swing or jazz station, and put on your dance shoes. We’re off to the Top Note now, and you won’t find a finer place in all of Adelaide, in the foreign land called the past. I might even stick around here for a little bit longer, if you agree with me.
To enter to win an ebook copy of A Matter of Love and Death, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “death,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 13, 2020. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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