The Wicked City
Book Review - The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams
Before I begin reviewing the book itself, I have to give a major shout out to Julie McKay and Dara Rosenberg who performed The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams on Audible. Their performances were some of the best I've heard on an audio book. I'm not sure who read which part, but whoever read the part of Geneva 'Gin' Kelly was truly phenomenal - she nailed that 1920s way of speaking and made it sound so natural! You go girls!
As with many historical fiction books, this book follows two women from different decades:
Manhattan, 1998: Ella Hawthorne is a straight-laced woman dedicated to her career in finance. She just moved to a new apartment on Christopher Street after she caught her husband cheating on her. Ella finds a box belonging to Geneva 'Gin' Kelly who lived in that same apartment back in 1924. Manhattan, 1924: Gin is a easy-going flapper who enjoys a good night out and frequents a speakeasy called Christopher's. She is reluctantly helping Prohibition enforcement agent Oliver Anson catch a bootlegger, who happens to be her step-father.
I want to pause here for a moment and relate this book to my other interest: fashion history. Several times throughout the novel, Gin talks about her undergarments and there are several beautiful quotes when she is describing the silky, peach slip or the brassiere designed to turn a voluptuous woman's body into that of an adolescent boy. I thought I'd share a few examples of brassieres that I found at the Met Museum that were worn in the 1920s.
Some of these are lighter in weight and would have been worn by flappers with a more boyish figure, which was popular at the time. Women like Gin would have worn a sturdier bandeau to flatten the breasts. Although brassieres such as these had been around since the late 1800s, this was the first time they were worn without a heavy and sturdy corset. So when you read The Wicked City and you come to the part where Gin is describing her undergarments, you can picture one of these!
Okay, back to the book...
Usually when a book is split into two stories like this, there is one dominant story that I'm really invested in and the other story is more of tool to move the story along. That wasn't the case with this book: both stories were equally compelling and I was invested in both. Almost to the point that I think each story could have been its own book...the ties between the two stories were pretty weak and neither story relied heavily on the other.
So if both stories are strong and could stand on their own, but the ties between the two are weak, does that make the book as a whole better or worse? I struggled to answer that question when deciding how many stars to give this book. Had the ties been stronger between the two story lines I think I would have given this book five stars - or perhaps if the book just followed one character it could have gotten five stars. In addition, there were LOTS of loose ends left untied which also contributed to it having four stars instead of five.
With that being said, after I finished the book I found this interview with Beatriz Williams talking about why she structured the book in this way:
In this interview Beatriz Williams informs us that this is the first book in a series! This helps me understand the structure a bit better. So I'm hoping that this book was just setting us up for more overlap between the two stories in future books. I'm excited to get some closure on the following plot lines:
stop here to avoid spoiler alerts!
- Ella's great aunt mentions that she knew Gin back in the 1920s and wonders what happened to her - we never find out the connection between Ella's aunt and Gin or why they lost touch.
- The major tie between the two stories is when Ella finds Gin's box of buttons - we never find out why Gin left the box, which seems to be a prized possession, in the apartment.
- How is love triangle between Billy, Oliver and Gin resolved?
- Does Ella get fired? And on a related note, does she ever figure out the mystery behind the funds she discovered at work?
- Do Ella and Hector live happily ever after?
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