DiscoverMystery & Crime

The Jade Tiger

By

Worth reading 😎

Fans of seedy city secrets, gritty glitz & glam, brazen blackmail, & mysterious murders will be thrilled to linger with this page-turner!

Synopsis

NEW YORK, OCTOBER 1928. The Big Apple teems with the glitter of Bright Young Things, Prohibition, and scofflaws—the perfect place for Penelope Harris to start her life over.

As a former opera singer turned Shanghai nightclub owner, she’s seen and done a lot, maybe too much. With any luck, she’ll leave more than The Jade Tiger casino behind her—a murdered husband, a blackmailing torch singer, and Thom Lund, the ex-cop who stole her heart.

When her chiseling blackmailer is murdered at an out-of-control party and Thom accused of the crime, Penelope must face down her darkest memories to prove his innocence. Is the murderer her cousin Charles, suckered into a hasty marriage by Penelope’s blackmailer? Or is it Penelope’s over-protective mother, who can’t remember a thing after a blow to the head? Or was it Thom after all, ready to commit murder to save Penelope from the blackmailer’s wicked plans?

Among the opulent mansions of the obscenely wealthy and the grit of a Hell’s Kitchen speakeasy, Penelope and Thom must navigate double-crosses, bad liquor, bootleggers, and dark, obsessive love to find the murderer before the past reaches out to put a noose around both their necks.

The Jade Tiger by E. W. Cooper is a well crafted Murder Mystery that will make you want to spend the night curled up on the couch with a gimlet and fur. This quick-dealing, fast-talking, character-driven mystery had the feel of a 1940s noir film and the skill of a talented writer who successfully guided readers on an entertaining journey to the past. In this short novel, you will read great descriptions and dynamic dialogue that displays her effort in building a world of flawed characters you'll love to hate. Dark corners and secrets abound in the upper crest of Depression-era New York. Here, we meet Penelope and her moxie crew of family members, former employees, city police, and enemies. The author does a great job of putting readers in the scene at every turn of the page. There’s been extensive research and it shows. From clothing, ambiance, and conversation, you get the sense that you are reading a mystery written a century ago. 


The pace of the novel, though uneven at times, had edge-of-your-seat-scenes that truly popped. Some moments grab your attention, such as a sensual party scene involving a rendition of the Puccini opera Carmen, or the nail-biting police investigation. But those moments were hyphenated by over-indulgent dialogue that could have been better served as narrative observations. Though a short novel, I found it read like a stage play. I would have appreciated less reliance on dialogue to tell the story and more use of the omniscient narrator whose observations were amusing to read. What was lacking in flow was more than made up for in style. Cooper dazzles as a writer and would be best suited to use her narrative skills in a longer piece that can give her room to breathe more life into a story that flows as well as the silk and chiffon of the dizzy party-goers.


Cooper does a superb job in developing her primary characters by offering significant character insights when describing their facial expressions and body language. As a reader, I found myself confused with dialogue involving minor characters due in part to an excessive amount of charters unloaded within the first 30 pages. It was hard to keep track of who was who and why they were there at all. I understand that it is a murder mystery, therefore distraction is key, but I would have been happy with fewer minor characters with speaking roles, as this added to a confusing chorus of names to try and recall later in the novel. Also, the author may find with her next novel, and I hope there will be many more, she will not have to spend as much time leaving main characters to explain why minor characters unexpectedly vanished.


The best audience for this murder mystery are fans of pulp fiction and hard case crime pocket novels. This story should also find its way into the hands of readers who enjoy the quick-talking, shadowy, lingeringly seductive mystery films of the 1940s. Readers who enjoy the feel of a smoky room and silk gown whilst relishing in the dirty glitz and glam of blackmail and murder will be thrilled to turn the pages of The Jade Tiger.


Reviewed by

I believe writers are the last bastions of humanity & have a responsibility to craft thoughtful narratives. For 20 years, my world has revolved around literature: selling, teaching, and writing. I am driven by books that inspire my creative endeavors. Reviews posted will be succinct and thoughtful.

Synopsis

NEW YORK, OCTOBER 1928. The Big Apple teems with the glitter of Bright Young Things, Prohibition, and scofflaws—the perfect place for Penelope Harris to start her life over.

As a former opera singer turned Shanghai nightclub owner, she’s seen and done a lot, maybe too much. With any luck, she’ll leave more than The Jade Tiger casino behind her—a murdered husband, a blackmailing torch singer, and Thom Lund, the ex-cop who stole her heart.

When her chiseling blackmailer is murdered at an out-of-control party and Thom accused of the crime, Penelope must face down her darkest memories to prove his innocence. Is the murderer her cousin Charles, suckered into a hasty marriage by Penelope’s blackmailer? Or is it Penelope’s over-protective mother, who can’t remember a thing after a blow to the head? Or was it Thom after all, ready to commit murder to save Penelope from the blackmailer’s wicked plans?

Among the opulent mansions of the obscenely wealthy and the grit of a Hell’s Kitchen speakeasy, Penelope and Thom must navigate double-crosses, bad liquor, bootleggers, and dark, obsessive love to find the murderer before the past reaches out to put a noose around both their necks.

Chapter One

The letter arrived in the morning mail. Heavy linen paper supplied an ample canvas for sweeping handwriting, which wrote, Mrs. Penelope Harris Ambrose; c/o the Excelsior Hotel; New York, New York. Then, in the return address, a name well known enough to give her pause. Wasn’t he on tour with his protégé, the soprano? She turned the envelope in her hand and tried to remember. Wasn’t he? What was her name? Penelope stared at the handwriting for a moment. Her heart beating a little faster.     


There had been invitations from lesser-known vocal teachers. Society photographers appearing at the exact moment the instructor threw her out on her ear. Penelope couldn’t ignore the coincidence. “All publicity is good publicity,” the social editors told her when she called to complain. “Girlie, you sell newspapers!” Free advertising for an instructor looking for new talent wasn’t too shabby either. After the last invitation resulted in a snap of Penelope with an unattractive gape and a double chin front and center in the Evening Standard, every invitation to sing went to the Excelsior incinerators with the rest of the trash—with no regrets.     


But this one . . . Signore Avenetti. Penelope held the letter in her hand, weighing the consequences of another appearance in the society columns. She checked the postmark— October 11, 1928—only two days before. Had the Signore’s precious soprano ditched him for a French conductor after her Parisian debut? Could the Signore be looking for another student? Someone to fill her place? Penelope stood stock-still, allowing the dream of a career on the stage to press in around her.     


“What’s that?” Her older brother, James, emerged from his bedroom, a heavy bathrobe lashed to his wiry frame, blond hair ruffled, glasses on the tip of his nose. Plucking the letter from her fingers with one hand, he adjusted his glasses with the other and said, “Love letters? So soon? We’ve only been in New York two months!” He waggled a finger in her direction. “Keep your nose clean, Penelope, or high society will cut you dead!”     


“As if they haven’t already!” she sniffed. The letter appeared smaller in his hand, less consequential. She remembered the photographers when the steamer had stopped in Liverpool, the newspaper headlines, relentless publicity. Then again in Boston. And again in New York. Kinkaid Ambrose had been a terrible husband in life. In death, he had been worse, killed in an alley behind the notorious Jade Tiger, a gambling casino of the very worst sort. A man like the Signore wouldn’t—no, he couldn’t be interested in a student who might put him on the front page in all the wrong ways. It simply was not possible.     


Penelope was crisp. “High society wouldn’t have me before I got married. Why on earth would they have me after I became a widow? Anyway, it isn’t a love letter. Give it here.” She stretched out her hand.     


“What on earth is keeping the paper?” A tallish woman stood in the doorway to the living room. “James! Just look at yourself! If you are going to join us at breakfast in your bathrobe, you could at least comb your hair.” She turned to Penelope. “Is that the paper?”     


“Here it is, Mother.” Penelope handed her the bundle. “There are two letters for you.”     


Eleanor took the paper and then eyed the mail. “Most likely your uncle Harry instructing me to remarry. It positively offends me to even think about it. Your father has hardly been dead a year!” She looked over the letters and added with some relief, “These are bills. You can tell by the handwriting; it is distinctly prim.”     


“What does this letter’s handwriting look like, Mother?” James held up the envelope.     


“Setting aside the fact that the letter is addressed to your sister and not to you, I would wager that it is definitely not a bill.”     


“I think it’s a love letter,” James said quickly, holding the letter up and away from Penelope where she could not reach it.     


“My darling boy,” Eleanor cocked her head to see the envelope better, “that is not a love letter. The handwriting is far too musical. I’d wager it’s another audition.” She returned to the letters in her hand.     


“Then it goes in the trash.” Practical facts filled Penelope with resolve. “Just another musical tutor looking for his picture in the paper.”    


“My dear, how can you tell?” Eleanor looked up. “It could be a legitimate invitation. The flourish on the H is very promising. You should go. Your father would have wanted you to continue your studies.”     


Would he? Penelope wasn’t as sure. Before he died, her father had hoped selling his company would provide enough to live comfortably in America. But he couldn’t have realized how reduced the trip across Europe would make them. Nor how expensive the doctors in Munich would be. Her scar, which started above her ear and continued in an arc across her neck, was almost invisible, thanks to them. But at what cost? There was no money to attend the academy and continue her vocal studies. Not anymore. There was enough to see James through medical school and settle her mother in an apartment near her brother Harry—but none for singing. It didn’t bear thinking about. Even if she could afford it, no teacher would want her. She thought her father would have understood. Especially now that the press was onto her past. Her mother needed an apartment. Her brother needed a career. Penelope did not deserve the money.     


She imagined the Signore pointing to the exit in a grand, dramatic pose, his favorite student at his elbow, a newspaper photographer in a funny squashed hat shouting, “Mrs. Ambrose! Smile for the camera!” as he jumped out from behind a potted plant. It was easy to imagine. The circumstances had repeated identically four times in the previous six weeks. Penelope straightened. “Even if it was the genuine article, I don’t need an audition—I need a job.” She took the letter from James’s fingers and dropped it onto the table next to the telephone in a single fluid movement. “I won’t have any students at all if I get my name into the papers one more time.” Penelope stuck out her chin. No more auditions. No more fools’ errands. It was time to get down to real work—if she could find it. Time to give up on childish ambition.  *     


Two hours later, with James on his way to campus for a lecture on the Spanish influenza and Eleanor off to the library for a new book, Penelope opened the letter and read it. The thought of her father haunted her. He could be in the living room reading the paper, he felt so close, the scent of his pipe drifting through the morning sun. A year of grieving hadn’t made the loss any easier. She missed him dreadfully. Would he have approved of her giving up? The man who told her she always had to try? Fifteen minutes later, she was in a cab headed uptown in the best disguise she could put together on short notice: an old dress, her mother’s second-best wool coat and gloves, a faded brown cloche pulled down over her hair and halfway over her eyes. With any luck at all, the press wouldn’t catch on. So far she was sailing free of them.     


Penelope allowed a dangerous glimmer of hope. The city passed by the windows in a blur as she dreamed.

About the author

Award winning author E.W. Cooper lives quietly with her partner, children, three dogs, and one cat in a noisy house in South Texas. Ms. Cooper was ecstatic to learn her debut, The Jade Tiger, was the 2020 Finalist in Mystery/Thriller for The Booklife Prize. Learn more at https://www.ewcooper.com/. view profile

Published on October 14, 2020

Published by

70000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Mystery & Crime

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