Rating: 4 stars
Walter Mayfield’s life is quite the balancing act. The Mayfield Speakeasy, owned by himself and his brothers, is neutral ground in an area subjected to continual turf wars by various gangs. It is only due to Walter’s reputation as an honest man and his diplomatic skills that the gangs check their grievances and guns at the door of his establishment. The same goes for the cops, Vice cops that is. For Prohibition is in full swing and serving liquor to the sounds of easy music is the name of the game for The Mayfield Speakeasy. The balancing act also includes keeping his volatile brothers in check and the liquor flowing. But that all changes when Detective Joe Riordan comes through the door.
The bodies of three women have been dumped in the river and the only connection between the three is Walter’s brother, John. Detective Joe Riordan and his partner are there to get information and to find the murderer. And they are going to start with asking questions of Walter. As the investigation gets underway, Joe and Walter realize that the other man is gay and act on their attraction to one another. But the gangs soon notice that the cops are continuing to hang around and soon the delicate juggling act is threatened by the murder case as well as Joe and Walter’s ongoing relationship.
As the case hits closer to home than either man expects, it is a race to catch the murderer before everything threatens to collapse under the investigation, from The Mayfield Speakeasy to the new burgeoning love affair of Walter and Joe’s.
The Mayfield Speakeasy is a short story of 62 pages and L.A. Witt manages to cram a lot of historical flavor and plot into such a short length. She starts off the story in a very “film noir” manner . Here is Walter as he views his club:
The O’Reilly brothers and their goons liked to put back some bootlegged whiskey and smoke cigars–those Cuban cigars that cost way more than the cheap ones everybody else had to make do with–while that pretty dame in the red dress sang next to the piano. That was Shirley. She was new here. She’d be Walter’s sister-in-law soon, if Billy didn’t mess things up.
There are plenty of dames and gangsters and bodies floating in the river. And into this speakeasy of Walter’s walks Detective Joe Riordan. Cue the music as Walter walks over to the table the cops are sitting at:
Music still played, and Shirley was still singing in that pretty voice of hers, but nobody was talking. Nobody except Walter. “Name’s Walter Mayfield,” he’d said. “I don’t want no trouble.”
L.A. Witt does a fabulous job of bringing the Prohibition era to life in the form of The Mayfield Speakeasy, you can almost taste the smoke and hard liquor. But the short length brings its own issues, primarily that of lack of character development and depth of plot. The men jump into bed even with all the dangers surrounding such actions. And Billy and John, Walter’s two brothers, need fleshing out for their roles to gel and their animosity towards each other to feel real. The mystery too needed a little more length so that you don’t see the identity as soon as you do in the story.
But still, within these 62 pages, the 30’s come to life once more as the liquor flows illegally, and so does a love that dares not speak its name. While it takes time for the affection to build between Joe and Walter, the reader will enjoy every moment from the smokey beginnings to the end.
Cover art by Trace Edward Zaber. Great cover, looks as though it just came off one of the dime store novels of the era.