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“An intelligent novel that twists your gut.”

December 13, 2018


We are thrilled to share another wonderful new review for a ‘backlist’ title – a proof that great books don’t have a ‘use-by’ date!

REACH THE SHINING RIVER by Kevin Stevens in NB Magazine

Cover art by Keith Mallett

Stevens has written a grippingly sinister murder mystery that oozes menace and violence. Reach the Shining River captures the deeply corrupt and racist atmosphere of the 1930s, creating a feeling of dread and fear for the characters. This is a fight where the good guys are vastly out-numbered and out-gunned and where looking the wrong way at the wrong person can get you killed. Under the veneer of polite, civilised conversation, the golf club drinks parties and the sumptuous elegance is a rotten core, a canker. The question is, is it so embedded in the daily life of the city as to be immovable?

There’s a conspiracy at the heart of this thriller, but it’s not that simple; all motives are suspect and even those trying to do good have their limits. There are echoes here of the political shenanigans of All The King’s Men, the conspiracy at the heart of Chinatown, and the real life story of Louisiana governor Huey Long. It’s a bleak vision of the segregated society, greed and economic despair that rings very true. Reaching the Shining River is superbly plotted and suspenseful, This novel is haunting and chilling. When a black man is murdered, we see the value white society places on that man’s life.

Kansas City, 1935, even though the Volstead Act has been repealed and prohibition ended two years earlier, liquor distribution in the city is still controlled by the Italian mob. The police, from the commissioner down, are getting a cut of the gambling action, prostitution, drugs and the numbers racket. A few rich white men get richer, even in hard times. Boss Pendergast controls the legislature, he owns enough politicians to dictate to the State and kiss off the federal authorities. Against this backdrop, there’s only one thing worse than being a dirt-poor white person, and that’s being a dirt-poor black person. Not a drop of the New Deal aid, following the financial crash, has made it to the Negro part of town. The tone of the novel is beautifully reinforced by the painful and poetic lyrics of the blues that infuse this gritty Noir, underlining the prejudice and corruption of the times.

Reach the Shinning River

Cover of the 1st edition, 2014

Sunday morning and eleven-year-old Wardell comes across the body of a “coloured” man, just like him, just outside town. The battered corpse is lying face down in the mud between the Missouri River and the rail track. Wardell runs to the Negro district to tell them what he’s seen. Mr Watkins knows it’s no easy matter reporting such a death. An hour later, he returns with a white police officer who makes Wardell take him to the body. He takes the boy back to town but he threatens him before he drops him off. Wardell best forget what he saw if he knows what’s good for him and his family.

Emmett Whelan and his wife Fay haven’t been close since the miscarriage; the old resentments about Emmett not being part of the ‘right set’ resurface. Fay relies on Daddy, Lloyd Perkins, for her spending money. He and his brother Robert are big men in this city, whereas Emmett is a poorly paid Jackson County Assistant Prosecutor. Lloyd has some people he wants his son-in-law to meet, distinguished gentlemen of the golf club – they have a proposal for Emmett.

The dead man, Eddie Sloane, didn’t show for work at the Sunset Club on Saturday night so Arlene sang with Otis on piano. Arlene and Eddie have been lovers for two years now. When she eventually reports him missing, the police don’t want to know, won’t even take a report. Even when his body turns up, Detective Timmins, in charge of the case, does nothing. There are people in the black community who won’t let the death of another black man just slide. The Friendship Brotherhood and Eddie’s lover Arlene hire a PI, a white detective from Chicago, to investigate.

Kevin Stevens

Lloyd Perkins and his business chums talk about reform to Emmett, and urge him to find out who killed Eddie Sloane. The city needs a clean-up; it would be good for them and good for the prosecutor that could bring it about – Fay would respect that. Eddie was killed inside city limits, so as a county prosecutor Emmett would have to tread carefully, but someone needs to conduct a proper investigation. Roddy Hudson, state prosecutor, and the FBI are still angry with Kansas City for not cooperating on law enforcement and the New Deal; they will help.

Emmett brings in an old friend, a former detective, to investigate. The autopsy shows that Eddie was beaten badly, then shot three times, one in the head – police style. He stepped on the wrong toes, didn’t pay a debt or was just in the wrong place. Emmett, Arlene and her son Wardell are drawn deeper into a world of dirty cops, racism, corruption and personal danger. The people they are up against have no morals; they will stop at nothing.

Stevens’ powerful evocation of the shameful segregated world that is pre-war Missouri is a classy conspiracy thriller. An intelligent novel that twists your gut. In the spirit of the best American noir.

Paul Burke

Read the first pages of the novel here:

And another excerpt, with a soundtrack:

Original review:


A tribute to Aretha Franklin

August 17, 2018


As a small tribute to Aretha Franklin, this excerpt from Reach the Shining River, a novel by Kevin Stevens, writer and jazz connoisseur:

“A full house was tough on the nerves but easier to gather and please. If you knew what you were doing, and Arlene did. Had known from the beginning when, eleven years old, she sang “Go Tell It on the Mountain” in the Mount Zion church choir. Hitting the notes, yes. But plenty of singers could carry a tune. You had to get the audience involved. Start a conversation with them. You had to have soul.

Otis was at the piano, warming the crowd with a little boogie-woogie. Piney gave him the high sign and he segued into the first song.

The audience stirred, and faces turned stage left. Draymen, day laborers, housecleaners, cooks, domestics: these folks worked with their hands but knew their chord progressions. “Lady Be Good” was Arlene’s calling card – not the white-bread Fred Astaire arrangement but Bill Basie’s Kansas City version, up-tempo, swinging, with Lester Young soloing on tenor like he was making love to the long-legged gal serving drinks.

Arlene stepped into the light, singing just a shade behind the beat, her hands moving down along the sequins of her dress, from breasts to hips to thighs. It wasn’t the words that carried the soul but the ghost of Young’s saxophone, its sexy lines floating in her mind. Voices called out from the semi-darkness, filled with lust and admiration and surprise. Glasses clinked. The air was blue with cigarette smoke. Ecstasy and longing and gospel shouts. But this wasn’t church.

Listen to my tale of woe
It’s terribly sad but true
All dressed up, no place to go
Each evening I’m awfully blue.

The audience went with her from the start. Otis was just good enough. She followed with “All of Me”, “If You Were Mine” and “It’s Too Hot for Words”. Then another of her torch songs, “Body and Soul”.

My heart is sad and lonely
For you I sigh, for you dear only
Why haven’t you seen it
I’m all for you, body and soul.

Out of the lyrics he appeared. Unexpected. Looming in her mind, cool and easy, pork-pie hat pulled low over his brow and cigarette glowing between his lips. From between the lines of a song, like Young’s tenor sax.

Her heart lurched. She struggled to continue.”

A review of REACH THE SHINING RIVER by the winner of our Christmas Prize Draw

January 16, 2018


‘It was Wardell found the body.’

Kansas City, 1935. Emmett Watson, a county prosecutor of Irish decent, is married to Fay, a high society woman, who is the daughter of one of the movers and shakers in the city, and unhappy in her marriage. At a closed-door meeting with his father-in-law, and other high rollers, Emmett is asked to investigate the brutal murder of a local black, jazz piano player, and he soon finds himself taking on a corrupt political machine, mobsters and cops on the pad.

All around Emmett, is fear and silence surrounding the murder, and blatant racial hatred, that puts his life and career at risk.

One of the most engaging characters in the novel is Arlene Gray, the jazz
singer whose voice can still the room in a smoky Kansas City nightclub.
Arlene, a woman of tremendous grace, and vulnerability, is the mother of Wardell, the young boy who found the bullet-ridden body on a bank by the river. She also was the murdered Eddie Sloan’s lover. She is determined to
protect he son at all cost, and her anguish at losing Eddie, is a deeply moving part of the novel.

There is a bluesy, jazzy ebb and flow throughout the novel. Swirling and dipping in language and imagery. While reading it I often had music by Billie Holiday, Bud Powell, Lester Young, and Bill “Count” Basie playing
across the room. The music supplementing the rhythm and phrasing of the writer’s words. The richness of the many characters, and the honest writing that cut right to the quick.

It is always a pleasure to discover a novel and a writer whose vibrant prose, and dialogue, make me reluctant to turn the final page. Reach the Shining River is such a novel.”

–Marvin Minkler, Modern First Editions

Link to the original review on Facebook: here.

Christmas nostalgia : Our authors about the best book gift they have ever received (Part 2)

December 13, 2017


Patricia Ketola, author of Dirty Pictures

One Christmas, when I was about ten years old, I received a copy of R. L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The book was an unusual choice for a little girl, but I was so thrilled by the marvellous tale of adventure that I could not put it down.  Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver captured my imagination and I wanted to join them on the high seas and participate in their quest for treasure. Treasure Island is such a vivid and stimulating work that it’s still with me after all these years.

Craig McDonald, author of the Hector Lassiter series

Many years ago, at the height of my book collecting period, my wife handled contact with Scorpion Press in the UK when I was ordering a signed and numbered edition of James Ellroy’s memoir, My Dark Places. That same Christmas, she surprised me with the far rarer lettered edition, of which only 15 were produced.

Kevin Stevens, author of Reach the Shining River

When I was eleven years old, my father gave me a beautifully illustrated leather-bound edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. I read the novel then, have read it many times since, and it remains for me a touchstone of wisdom and great storytelling.

Les Edgerton, author of The Death of Tarpons

The best book gift I’ve ever received, I’ve received perhaps two dozen times. Same book. I have a pile of hardcover copies of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, my favorite book. Most of my friends know it’s my favorite book and so for years I keep receiving various copies of it. And, I love each and every one of them!

Fionnuala Brennan, author of The Painter’s Women

It is not easy to choose the best book present I ever received as what was best then I might not regard as the best now. However, I have chosen a book which I received many years ago because I remember it well and think many of its lessons are relevant today.  The book is Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly (Knopf, 1984).  She writes of what she terms ‘follies’, the paradoxes of history, from the Trojan War to Vietnam.  Tuchman (1917-1989) was not an academic historian and perhaps that is why her books, while they could be faulted for not being sufficiently rigorous, were widely read and won her two Pulitzer prizes.

To be continued…

E-book rights to Kevin Stevens’ novel “Reach the Shining River” licensed to Endeavour Press

August 17, 2016


Following on from the success of “Francesca” by Donald Finnaeus Mayo, we are delighted to announce the new release of the Ebook edition of Kevin Stevens’ novel “Reach the Shining River” by the UK’s leading independent digital publisher, Endeavour Press.

It is now available for order on Amazon here.

Reach the Shining River


Our own trade paperback is also available here:



“Not only a solid murder mystery, but equally a colourful and thought-provoking study of a moment in time. With the rhythm and cadence of the prose, echoing the blues soundtrack that underscored the whole book, Stevens easily achieved that balance between crime fiction and literary fiction due to his exceptional characterization and engaging prose.” —Raven Crime Reads

Kansas City, 1935

The effects of the Depression are still being felt, gangsters are running the show, and the police are corrupt. Emmett Whelan, an idealistic county prosecutor who has left behind his Irish roots and married into the country club set, takes on the city’s corrupt political machine when he investigates the brutal murder of a black musician. Emmett starts poking around and soon finds that there has been no investigation into the man’s death. He starts to wonder why a gentle man like Eddie was murdered?

As Emmett probes the case and meets another outsider, black jazz singer Arlene Gray, he discovers the city’s underbelly of racism and criminality.

Emmett hires a PI to help him, Mickey McDermott lost his job as a cop when he wouldn’t play by the rules. Soon they see that Eddie’s death is connected to some pretty powerful men in town. But as Emmett works harder and harder for justice, his marriage starts to disintegrate. And the more he digs, the more he sees he’s being played.

The closer he gets to the heart of the corruption, the more he sees that it is deeper and closer than he has ever suspected. When the truth finally unfolds – about the killings, the machine, Emmett’s wife – a surprising and devastating climax reverberates at every level of the city…

Reach the Shining River is an urban crime drama about money, race, and class. Tense and full of memorable characters, it has the smell of a big river, the atmosphere of 1930s America, and a soundtrack that is pure jazz and blues.

REACH THE SHINING RIVER: “Lover man”, excerpt & soundtrack

May 29, 2015


Bill Call leaned over his coffee, peering at Arlene. “When was the last time you saw Eddie?”

Without answering him or even excusing herself, Arlene rose and went to the bathroom. She locked the door, splashed water on her face, and sat on the toilet. On the back of the door was a framed photograph of Paul Robeson. Leonora had placed little baskets along the rim of the wash basin, each filled with a different colored soap.

She covered her face with her hands and cried noiselessly. There was Eddie in her mind’s eye, standing tall in her front doorway on that last evening, molding the crown of his hat with forefinger and thumb, wearing the dark suit with pencil stripes that he favored when the sun went down.

“I’m not inclined,” he had said.

“Well, then, don’t bother,” she answered. “Don’t bother on my account.”

“Tomorrow night be better. Our customary evening.”

This last phrase Eddie spoke with a sly tone, his way of offering to end the spat on friendly terms.

But she was angry. “You rather spend time with Virgil than me then you go right ahead. See if I care.”

He frowned, put his hat on his greased head, and wandered into the night. See if I care. Her last words to him. Words he carried into the next world. Words she would carry through the rest of her earthly life.

And Virgil gone missing. Maybe murdered as well. What had they done? Who had they crossed?

She and Eddie had rarely argued. He was a peacemaker, even when he was unhappy with something (her wedding ring, not being able to come by the house when Wardell was home). The secrecy of their affair suited them both, and was easy to disguise because of their musical partnership. He liked to slide along the easy way, Eddie did, and keep his head low.

But lately he’d been prickly. He had to borrow a few bucks from her once or twice, which hurt his pride, and couldn’t find work outside the weekend gig at the Sunset (Emmanuel Baptist didn’t pay). His needs were modest, but he liked his reefer and new threads when he could get them, and bought her flowers every week. He was feeling the bite of hard times, she knew that.

Their songs would not leave her alone. Lyrics took on sharper meanings:

 I don’t know why but I’m feeling so sad
I long to try something I never had
Never had no kissin’
Oh, what I’ve been missin’
Lover man, oh where can you be?

  REACHx2700_NEW   Kevin Stevens’ novel is available HERE


May 22, 2015


REACHx2700_NEW   Cover art: Keith Mallett

Cover design: JT Lindroos

We hope you would agree that this is a striking new cover for Kevin Stevens’ novel REACH THE SHINING RIVER, with its soundtrack of jazz and blues.

The lady on the cover is, of course, Arlene Gray, wonderfully described in this reader’s review: “Arlene cleans hotel rooms by day and by night she sings of heartbreak in a blues club. Arlene knows what she is singing about…”

Read the full review — and more — here and an excerpt about Arlene Gray here  (with a soundtrack!).

We would like to thank the artist Keith Mallet who has graciously allowed us to use his artwork “Jazz Café” and, as always, our favourite designer JT Lindroos.

Australian promotion for REACH THE SHINING RIVER by Kevin Stevens

April 22, 2015


Australian readers, don’t miss Kevin Stevens beautiful historical crime novel REACH THE SHINING RIVER for only 0.99 AUD:

“Not only a solid murder mystery, but equally a colourful and thought-provoking study of a moment in time. With the rhythm and cadence of the prose, echoing the blues soundtrack that underscored the whole book, Stevens easily achieved that balance between crime fiction and literary fiction due to his exceptional characterization and engaging prose.” —Raven Crime Reads

Reach the Shinning River

Willow Weep for Me

February 13, 2015


img1jazz“By the time the singer appeared, the house was full. Arlene Gray stepped elegantly on the stage and approached the microphone, one hand moving in time with the music, the other resting against the curve of her hip. There was warm applause. Light-skinned and full-figured, she wore a black, strapless sheath with sequins that sparkled in the house lights.

She looked like a diva, but her voice was delicate, almost shy. She opened with “Willow Weep for Me”. Six years ago, when he was courting Fay, it had been the torch song for a generation. Irene Taylor had the hit, a big, show-stopping number with orchestral flourishes and quavering grace notes.

But Arlene Gray’s version was low-key and off-center. She sang as if speaking to her audience, and the phrases moved gently and rhythmically, like the sound of lapping waves.

Whisper to the wind and say that love has sinned

Left my heart a-breaking, and making a moan

Murmur to the night to hide its starry light

So none will see me sighing and crying all alone.

The sad music washed over him. Unused to whiskey, he grew maudlin. He thought of Fay. A lost cause. Solving the case wasn’t going to make any difference. It would land him the job with her old man and make him a shitload of dough, but none of that mattered. She might stay with him for what he could give her, but she hated something inside of him.

Something that wasn’t going to change.

He drank his whiskey. Let Mickey get the dirt on her. Let him find out the worst.

At the end of the set he moved unsteadily to the bar. He ordered a double. The bartender was brisk but deferent. He wiped the counter with a cloth and set the drink on a beermat.

“She’s something, huh?” Emmett said.

“Yes sir. M’s. Gray, she know how to sing.”

— Excerpt from REACH THE SHINING RIVER by Kevin Stevens

Available here:

Kindle edition of GIFTS free this week!

December 17, 2014


Christmas is not always magic but good books always are.

Whether you love or hate Christmas, you might enjoy a good story.

Our collection GIFTS: NINE BITTERSWEET CHRISTMAS STORIES is free on Amazon this week:



Excerpt from Gifts: Bittersweet Christmas Stories by Kevin Stevens

December 4, 2014


From “The Return of Eddie Sloan” by Kevin Stevens:

“She checked on Wardell. He was fast asleep, dreaming of sugar plums. All the doors were locked. The backyard was deserted and the thin cover of fresh snow showed no footprints. In the parlor, the Christmas tree stood lightless and lonely, the angel on top askew. She pulled her robe tight around her shoulders and returned to bed. Passing the threshold, she examined the smudge of ash on the pinewood floor. It was in the shape of a heart.”


Read or download GIFTS for free here:
Buy a collector edition here:
Or get an e-book here:

Stevens 1Stevens 3

Reaching Readers in Missouri

November 12, 2014


Reach the Shining River

KS signing

There is no friend as loyal as a book.                      Ernest Hemingway

Last week I gave readings of Reach the Shining River at two different venues in St. Louis, Missouri: to staff and students at Fontbonne University, and to Saturday Writers, a writing group in St. Peters, Missouri, which is also a chapter of the Missouri Writers Guild. Both audiences were interested and well-informed, and both events reminded me how important it is for writers to leave the lonely confines of the desk on occasion and engage with others who love to read and write fiction.


Of course, it was challenging to talk about my novel with people who know its setting much better than I do. Reach the Shining River is a Missouri novel, set in Kansas City, and though I have visited KC and St. Louis many times, I have to be careful not to assume…

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“Cities, Bars, and Crime” by Kevin Stevens

October 13, 2014


Reach the Shining River


These days, big cities go out of their way to proclaim their cleanliness and safety. New York, LA, London, Paris…the city fathers of each note regularly how, compared with a few decades ago, their metropolises are much better to visit and live in. Crime rates have fallen. The cops are friendly. The streets are litter-free. What vice there is is socially acceptable or decidely unseedy. And who’d have it any other way?

Well, readers of crime fiction, perhaps. Crime novels and cities go together like guns and ammo. And traditionally, dirty, unsafe streets with heavy fog and crumbling neighborhoods not only create atmosphere but plot opportunities as well.

But fiction moves with the times. And these days noir is as much a state of mind as a physical phenomenon. The twenty-first century urban landscape is slick and anonymous, at least in the developed world, and writers now look to these characteristics – while not…

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“My Literary Neighborhood” by Kevin Stevens

October 9, 2014


Reach the Shining River


There ought to be a room in every house to swear in.                                    Mark Twain

I live near Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass, in a “Harlow buidling.” These beautiful brick structures were designed by Hamilton Harlow in the early decades of the twentieth century and were designed to blend in with the features of Harvard University buildings – red brick, elegant ironwork, and leaded glass windows.

It’s a cool neighborhood. A really cool neighborhood for a writer, partly because so many famous authors lived nearby. Two doors up from my building is where William Dean Howells lived in the 1870s, when he was editor of the Atlantic Monthly.

howells sign

There is a great story in Justin Kaplan’s biography of Mark Twain which details Twain’s visit to this house in April, 1876, and the ill-fated attempt of Howells and Twain to get to Concord by train for centennial celebrations presided over…

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Raven Crime Reads about Kevin Stevens’ novel REACH THE SHINING RIVER

August 5, 2014


“Not only a solid murder mystery, but equally a colourful and thought-provoking study of a moment in time. With the rhythm and cadence of the prose, echoing the blues soundtrack that underscored the whole book, Stevens easily achieved that balance between crime fiction and literary fiction due to his exceptional characterisation and engaging prose.” Full review here:

Excerpt: Reach the Shining River

July 29, 2014



It was Wardell found the body.

He was walking along a cutbank north of town, snapping heads off cattails with his cane pole and checking the river for sunfish. The corpse lay face down in the mud between the railroad tracks and the river path. A man, hard to say what age. His jacket was pulled over his head and his shirt was ripped. The skin on his back was a mess of ugly.

A colored man, like him.

He ran along the railroad tracks towards the city. Couldn’t get the tore-up body out of his mind. Ahead, the packing houses and railway yards wiggled in the hot air. He crossed the bridge and ran past the factories, breathing like a plow horse. Tarred road burning his bare feet. He followed Grand all the way to the Negro district. By the time he reached Jesse’s house he was hog-sweaty and shaking like a jitterbug.

They sent for Mr. Watkins.

“Go on, Wardell. Tell the man. Go on, now.”

He wore a pin-stripe suit with a gold tie clip and a fancy watch chain hanging from a belt loop. Bald-headed and dark around the eyes, but kindly.

Wardell told him.

Watkins listened and nodded and said to Jesse’s dad, “You did right to send for me, Les.” He asked Wardell if he would like some lemonade.

“Yes sir.”

Jesse’s mother fetched him the drink. Her dress rustled like old straw. Wardell’s fishing pole leaned against the piano, leaf shreds wedged in the guide holes. Jesse stood near the back door.

Under his breath, Mr. Watkins said, “Not good, Lester.”

Wardell peered at them over the lip of the glass. Not enough sugar in the lemonade, but cool and smooth down his dry throat.

“Where’s his folks?”

“Alice knows.”

“Mondays Arlene does maid service down Plaza way.”

“Arlene Gray? The singer?”

“That’s right.”

“His daddy?”

“On the road, I believe. Some time now.

Mr. Watkins nodded.

“He can stay here,” Alice said. She smiled, touched her straightened hair. “Wardell, you have supper with us this evening. Till your mama free.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

Watkins checked his gold watch and looked at Jesse’s dad.

“Alice,” Lester said. “Take the boys out back.”

The men talked for a spell and drove off in Mr. Watkins’s Oldsmobile. They came back an hour later, followed by a black sedan with a ten-foot antenna. A white man in a seersucker suit climbed out, fanning himself with a straw hat. He looked around the parlor like he was in a museum. He asked Wardell some questions. Lester and Mr. Watkins watched from the doorway. Wardell had never before seen a white man inside a colored folks home.

The man led Wardell to his car. Mr. Watkins followed.

“You want me to come along, officer?” Mr. Watkins said.

“That won’t be necessary.”

Watkins’s face was saggy and scared looking. “The boy’s had a fright,” he said.

The man put his hat on. “I’ll bet he has.”

He led the man to the body. Afterwards, the man spoke into the car radio for a while. He didn’t say a word to Wardell until they pulled up in front of Jesse’s house.

He grabbed Wardell’s arm. Tight. His teeth were dirty and his breath was bad. But his eyes were the worst. Wolf eyes. “You listen to me, boy. You forget where you took me today, you got that?”

Wardell nodded.

“Those people inside ask where we went, you tell ’em you can’t remember. I don’t care how many times they ask you.”


His grip was so hard Wardell wanted to cry.

“I will find out if you say anything. I will find out, you hear me? And I’ll come looking for you.”

Wardell nodded. His throat was too tight to make words.


He and Jesse played in the back yard while Alice fixed supper. Jesse was a blabbermouth, but he wasn’t saying squat. They threw the baseball back and forth, pitches first then grounders and fly balls. Next door, old Mrs. Aldridge was singing in her kitchen.


 Steal away, steal away

Steal away to Jesus

Steal away, steal away home.


Alice called them in and they ate. Everyone acted like nothing happened. Wardell kept glancing over his shoulder. Like someone was at the kitchen door. All the windows were open and the sound of the crickets was way too loud. The air smelled like trash.

He ate all his biscuits and gravy, said his thank yous and yes ma’ams, waited for his mama on the porch with the cane pole between his knees, all quiet and polite like he was supposed to. But he was running scared. Something was out there.

That night he dreamt of a hoodooman chasing him with a Randall knife. When he woke his throat was on fire and his mother was stroking his forehead.

“There now, Wardell. You safe with your mama. You safe with your mama, child.”


“Emmett, will you help me with this?”

Fay sat at her vanity, head bent so that her hair draped over her shoulders. The delicate lines of her neck caught the bedroom light. Between her fingers she held the ends of her pearl necklace. He secured the clasp and, on impulse, kissed the white skin. Slightly, but obviously, she flinched.

He stepped back.

“Thank you, darling,” she said. With fierce strokes she brushed her hair. Its copper tones glowed against her clear skin and silk dress. In the mirror her green eyes were stony and glinting.

Since the miscarriage there had been this distance. Nearly a year now. As if it was his fault.

He buttoned his suit coat. “You’ll need to get a move on, we don’t want to be late.”

“Don’t worry about that. Isabel will be a half an hour late. At least half an hour.”

The wedding was at Trinity Episcopal; the reception, for two hundred and fifty guests, at the Muehlebach Hotel. Highlight of the Kansas City summer calendar. Fay’s Uncle Robert was not shy about showing off his wealth, and Isabel was her father’s daughter. Maine lobster on the August menu, Dom Perignon to wash it down. Her dress by Philippe Marchand in Chicago and a cream-colored 1935 Rolls Royce to ferry her from the Perkins mansion to the church.

“Your dad,” Emmett said, “wouldn’t appreciate us ducking in just ahead of the bride.”

Fay stood, checked her earrings. “Father gets difficult I’ll deal with him.”

“I didn’t say difficult.”

“God forbid.”

Today, anything he said or did would annoy her. She was miffed that she hadn’t been asked to be her cousin’s bridesmaid. It’s because of you, her manner said, though she would deny it. Assistant county prosecutor, sure, but still on a shitheel salary that forced her to go to Daddy for handouts. And way down the social scale. Whereas Isabel’s catch, Dickie Brewster, was heir to one of Kansas City’s biggest fortunes and, at twenty-seven, already on the board of the National Union Bank.

“Bring the car around,” Fay said. “I have to give instructions to Hattie.”

Driving down Prospect Street, the sun’s rays fierce and fragmented on the windshield, he thought back to their own wedding two years ago. His mother wearing a frumpy frock when Fay’s mother had offered to have a gown made for her at Goodman’s. His father in his cups before the first course, his arm around Pat O’Malley as they forgot the lyrics to “Shamrock Shore.”

“If Peter Lawson is invited,” Fay said as he drove, “I will die.”

“Who is Peter Lawson?”

“Darling, I must have told you a hundred times. He proposed to Isabel at Nancy Chatham’s debut.”

“There’s a Lawson on the Star. Sportswriter.”

Languidly she took in the passing streets. “Really, Emmett, you don’t have a clue, do you? The Lawsons own Missouri Asphalt, though they’d be fools to let Peter anywhere near it. Not the brightest of the clan, I’m afraid. Isabel did right to cut him.”

And no-one could cut like the Perkins girls.

Fay fidgeted throughout the ceremony, picking lint from her dress and adjusting her hat with the tips of her fingers. The high-windowed church was stifling. The ceremony was long and formal. Like a Catholic mass, Emmett thought, though his mother would not have agreed.

Outside the church they paid their respects. The Brewster parents stiff and correct, smelling like old money. Big Bob Perkins with his hands behind his back, morning suit impeccable, huge head perfectly bald. Underwriter of all he surveyed. Beside him Fay’s Aunt Claire, thin as a ferret, round eyes taking in the smallest social detail. And the newly married, a couple of mummies in their glad rags, phoney smiles pasted on their faces like paper moons.

Fay and Isabel hugged and wept, all differences forgotten. Emmett pumped Dickie’s hand.

“Thought the minister would never get to the ‘I do’s’,” Dickie said, running a finger under his collar. “Hot as hell in there.”

Emmett could tell by the way he avoided his gaze that Dickie could not remember his name.

It took a while for a crowd that size to move from church to hotel, and what with the high sun and river air, Emmett’s courtroom suit was dark at the armpits by the time he plucked a soft drink from a waiter’s tray in the tea foyer of the Muehlebach. He took a long pull from the soda and wiped his face with his handkerchief. Fay was across the room, hat in hand, perched on the edge of a wicker chair opposite the society columnist Henrietta Kincaid and busting a gut trying to impress.

A dance band played Guy Lombardo tunes. Faces well-fed and familiar floated past. The guest list was long but not diverse. It was south-side and deep-lawned. Made up of Mission Hills and other Ward 16 residents who voted a straight Republican ticket, shopped at the Plaza, and lunched at the Terrace Grill. The kind of people his mother would call “quality” and his dad “country-clubbers”. The kind of people who wouldn’t let him forget where he came from.

“Hey, Emmo.”

No country-club stiff ever called him that. He turned and saw Mickey McDermott behind the bar, hair unruly, eyes morose.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Emmett said.

“That’s funny. I was about to ask you the same thing.”

“What does it look like? I’m a guest.”

“Then I’m your man. Name your poison.”

Emmett raised his glass. “OK for the moment, Mick.”

“Go on. Bird never flew on one wing.”

“Soda water, so.”

Soda water?”

“Off the drink two years now. You not know that?”

Mickey topped up his glass and poured a shot for himself. They clinked. Like being back in the old neighborhood.

“How’s Mrs. Mac?” Emmett asked.

Mickey grimaced. “Touch of the arthritis. Had to give up work.”

“And the Da? Still pouring cement for the boss?”

“When he’s not losing his shirt at the track.”

“Here’s to their health.”

Again they touched glasses, drank, went silent. Behind the bar the long mirrors reflected the foyer’s floral-chintz lounge chairs and silk-shaded lamps. Mickey ran a cloth along the gleaming counter, a solid slab of mahogany lying between them like the run of life itself.

“How long you been moonlighting, Mick?”

His face darkened. “You didn’t hear?”

“Hear what?”
“Laid off.”

“You’re joking.”
“I am not.”

Emmett put his glass on the bar. “Since when?”

“Eddie Plunkett’s the manager here. Gave me a start two months ago. No WPA make-work for me, Emmo.”

Emmett and Mickey had grown up a mile from each other, graduated high school together, and played ball for the same American Legion team. Mickey had been the best shortstop in Jackson County and spent two seasons with the Kansas City Blues. After busting up his knee he quit the club and applied for the force. Turned down twice because of the injury, he finally took his old man’s advice and climbed the stairs to the second floor of the Jackson Democratic Club on Main Street. Boss Pendergast asked him where his dad worked then nodded at Jim Aylward. Like that, Mickey was in. So why was he out now?

“I don’t get it, Mick. What’s the deal?”

He shrugged, swirled dregs in his shot glass. “It’s tough out there. Not like when I was coming up. They’re going for a higher class of recruit. College boys.”

A glance at Emmett’s serge.

“But you’re a veteran. They don’t – ”

“Hey. The breaks.”

From the get-go Mickey had been a good cop. When Emmett was still in law school, he was on a detective track, shrewd and ambitious, always popping up in the right place at the right time. Beneath the cowlick and surly manner was a mind keen and analytical. Emmett would often have a drink with Mickey at Billy Christie’s, pick his brains on who was on the take, who was muscling who, how far a watch commander or cranky captain could be pushed outside the lines. A Pendergast boy but straight as a rail and straight with an old friend.

But he was holding back now.

“You gonna tell me?”

“What’s to tell?”

“If I know, maybe I can help.”

Mick rapped his knuckles on the bar and shook his head. “What’s the point? You of all people should know. Used to be you kept your mouth shut and they’d leave you alone. The Union Station massacre changed everything. The Feds are breathing down everybody’s neck, Milligan is out for blood, the ministers are pushing for reform.”

“All good things.”

“Sure, Emmett, good. But what do you think happens on the inside? With the bagmen and juicers and fixers? The grease that keeps the wheels turning?”

Emmett raised a palm. “Whoa, Mickey. Lower your voice.”

“You think they’re the exception? I was the fucking exception. The way it’s turned, those boys feel the heat they come down on the good guys. You join the club or they cut your balls off. And I wasn’t joining.”

He turned his back in disgust, rearranged the pewter measures beside the whiskey bottles. His shoulders were high and his head was forward, reminding Emmett of the view from left field as a pitch was thrown and Mickey readied himself for a ground ball.

“Mick, listen to me.”

He waved dismissively. Near the entrance to the ballroom, Fay talked to a man in a drape cut suit with big shoulder pads. Something he said made her laugh, and she let her hand rest on his arm.

“Come to my office on Monday,” Emmett said. “Any time during the afternoon. Come on in and we’ll talk.”

“Talk, talk.”

“Mick. Promise me you’ll come in.”

“We’ll see.”

He wouldn’t turn around.

Emmett rejoined Fay and they filed into the ballroom. The band played “We’re in the Money.” Oriental carpet beneath their feet, potted palms in the corners. The vast room a dazzle of white linen and fuchsia.

“Who was that you were laughing with?” Emmett said.

“That awful bore Peter Lawson.”

“You didn’t look bored to me.”

“Why on earth were you talking to staff for so long?”

Staff. It was amazing the shape ordinary words could take as they fell from Fay’s lips.

“That was Mickey McDermott.”


“An old friend. Fallen on hard times.”

She made a face as if she’d eaten something rotten.

During dinner his father-in-law came to their table and put a hand on Emmett’s shoulder.

“Mr. Perkins.”

“Don’t get up, Emmett. You youngsters enjoying yourselves?”

Youngsters, Daddy?”

“Oh yes. Very young from this old man’s vantage.”

Lloyd Perkins didn’t look like an old man. Sixty years old, he was lean and leathered, still the wiry Rough Rider he had been nearly forty years ago, when he won a Purple Heart helping Teddy Roosevelt take San Juan Hill. Unlike his brother, he owned a full head of iron gray hair. His face was thin and crowded: eyes set close together, front teeth overlapping. A hunter’s face. His law practice was one of the most successful in Kansas City, thirty years in business and the firm of choice for corporations nationwide needing counsel in western Missouri. Early in the century he had bartered his war-hero rep and friendship with Teddy R to land several large anti-trust cases. Successful young and hadn’t looked back.

“How’s my girl?” Lloyd asked. “Not used to being out of the spotlight, are you?”

“I can handle it, Daddy.”

He barked a laugh, gazed at the head table. “Isabel looks fine today,” he said. “Though not in your league, sweetheart.”


He looked down at Emmett.

“No argument from me, Mr. Perkins.”

Lloyd nodded curtly, cleared his throat. Scanning the room, he said to Emmett, “You busy tomorrow?”


Lloyd waited.

“No, not busy,” Emmett said, glancing at Fay. “I’m free.”

“Meet me at Mission Hills. Two o’clock. Some men I’d like you to meet.”

He touched his daughter’s shoulder and moved off. Short strides, parade-ground swing of the arms.

Fay raised her eyebrows. “Mission Hills Country Club,” she said. “That’s an invitation you don’t get every day.”

A gust of warm air stirred the curtains, a whiff of moisture and a change of pressure. White-coated men hustled to the windows and extended long, brass-hooked poles to close the fanlights. Bad weather on the way.

“He didn’t invite me to play.”

“One step at a time, Emmett.”


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