America in the 1920s was a country alive with the wild fun of jazz, speakeasies, and a new kind of woman—the flapper. Vera Abramowitz is determined to leave her gritty childhood behind and live a more exciting life, one that her mother never dreamed of. Bobbing her hair and showing her knees, the lipsticked beauty dazzles, doing the Charleston in nightclubs and earning the nickname “Dollface.”
As the ultimate flapper, Vera captures the attention of two high rollers, a handsome nightclub owner and a sexy gambler. On their arms, she gains entrée into a world filled with bootleg bourbon, wailing jazz, and money to burn. She thinks her biggest problem is choosing between them until the truth comes out. Her two lovers are really mobsters from rival gangs during Chicago’s infamous Beer Wars, a battle Al Capone refuses to lose.
The heady life she’s living is an illusion resting on a bedrock of crime and violence unlike anything the country has ever seen before. When the good times come to an end, Vera becomes entangled in everything from bootlegging to murder. And as men from both gangs fall around her, Vera must put together the pieces of her shattered life, as Chicago hurtles toward one of the most infamous days in its history, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.Paperback, 416 pages Published November 5th 2013 by NAL Trade Source: Publisher in Exchange for an honest review
Vera scurries to her second job. After a lengthy day working as a typist, she is on her way to spend the evening modeling glamorous jewelry at parties for the wealthy. As a working girl, Vera can only dream about living a life with money and riches. She is barely managing to make ends meet. Disaster strikes at the end of the evening when Vera discovers one of her diamond earrings is missing. Unless she finds the earring Vera will have to come up with $200 to replace it. A fortune to a girl like her. An unlikely benefactor swoops in and hands her angry employer a fistful of cash to cover the loss. He is handsome and kind. Soon Vera is dancing the evenings away with Shep. Vera is giddy with her inclusion into the world of the wealthy. Just when things are going swell, Vera learns the shocking truth. Shep is actually a member of one of Chicago's most notorious gangs. If Vera doesn't end the relationship, she might find herself thrust into the bloody, violent gang war. Will Vera survive the roaring twenties?
- I am always fascinated by the roaring twenties era. It is a time in the United States when civilization reverted back to guns, violence, bootlegging and plenty of other illicit activities. The rise in crime and the birth of organized gangs whose main purpose was to distribute booze in response to the Act of Prohibition, a ridiculous act that prohibited drinking, selling and manufacturing alcohol in the United States. Gangs sprouted up across the country. None were more notorious or dangerous than the ones in Chicago where this story takes place. Two rival gangs were entrenched in Chicago: The North and South Side Gangs. The North led by Bugsy Malone and the South by Al Capone. These two gangs engaged in a bloody war that brought shootings and murder to the streets of Chicago. The violence culminated in one final blood bath known as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre when one gang successfully wiped out the other. Dollface plunges the naive Vera right in the middle of the rival gangs. It was interesting and fascinating watching the events unfold that led up to the massacre. I was excited to learn more about the lives of the gangsters and the women who loved them.
- Vera takes some time to connect with, but once she takes charge of her life and starts fending for herself, things get very interesting. It won't go into too many details to avoid spoilers, but I enjoyed watching her do what she had to do to keep a roof over her head and provide for her daughter. She matures from the girl who is addicted to shopping and a life of leisure to one who is dodging danger.
- The life of a gangster was fast, dangerous and bloody. I appreciated that the author tried to bring as much historical accuracy to the gang life in Chicago as possible. Even though Shep and Tony were fictional, many of the other players were true historical figures like Bugsy and Capone. It was fascinating to learn some of the code that the gangsters followed such as it was a matter of respect to whack a guy and then send flowers and even attend his funeral. Can you imagine? It was common for members of the gangs to troll the streets looking for their target, and once he was found they would open fire out of their car windows with tommy guns and sawed off shotguns, without thought to any of the innocent bystanders. These men were ruthless killers and they took out many unsuspecting victims who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
- Aside from the gang war, I also liked getting a glimpse into the lives of the women in this era. Many girls maintained the traditional role of wife, mother and homemaker, while other girls chose to become working girls. Some held down low paying jobs as typists, waitresses and secretaries, while others delved into the dangerous lifestyles by becoming bootleggers or gangsters or the wife or mistress of a gangster. It was nothing for a gangster to have a wife and mistress and most of the time the women knew of the other but put up with it because they didn't want to give up their lavish lifestyle. It was disturbing and hilarious to watch one of the girls, Basha a mistress, plot against and often fight with the wife of her gangster lover. This was an era of overindulgence and promiscuity as girls bobbed their hair, raised their hems and took up the flapper girl lifestyle where they drank, danced and partied the nights away.
- All in all, this was an entertaining and interesting glimpse into the gangster lifestyle of the roaring twenties. If you are itching to learn more about this era, definitely pick up this book.
- I struggled a bit with Vera. At the beginning, I sympathized with her plight as I watched her work her tail off to pay her rent and eat. Once she meets Shep and Tony, things change. She involves herself in a love triangle and she is swayed into the life of glamour and glitter. At this point, Vera becomes shallow, and I found myself disconnecting with her. She deludes herself into thinking that despite the fact that she is romantically involved with a gangster, nothing bad will happen. She hasn't many cares aside from shopping and spending money. She becomes involved with a ladies' group and this part was a real snooze. Thankfully, there is a major turn of events that puts Vera into survival mode during the final third of the book, but before she hits bottom she is a crying mess. Once she drags herself up and starts fighting, I was pulled back into the story and eagerly engaged as I watched Vera fight to survive. She becomes tough as nails, and she no longer relies on the men to support her. She never becomes totally likable but I grew to admire her tenacity.
- Vera engages in sexual relationships with two different men (yes there is a love triangle). I realize that birth control and condoms were not present in this era, but I was left curious as to what girls did to prevent unwanted pregnancies? There is a disturbing discussion on what girls did to get rid of unwanted pregnancies but not much on how to prevent them. There are some hints but not anything concrete. I wondered why Vera didn't become pregnant again? It didn't seem plausible, unless she was utilizing some unknown form of birth control that wasn't mentioned.
- The biggest problem I had with this book was pacing. It starts out interesting as we follow Vera partying in speakeasies and clubs at night and working by day. Once she settles into the wife of a gangster, the book begins to drag a bit. Finally, things get exciting again the final third of the book as it explores bootlegging, gangster murders, body disposal and bloody gangster shootouts. For me, I found the story spent too much time focusing on Vera's lifestyle and that it skipped over many important historical events that took place during the story's time period. For instance, the plot builds toward the terrifying events of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. I was expecting so much more, and instead I got a brief account and then it skips five years into the future. Moving rapidly ahead didn't give the reader any time to learn more about the fallout of the massacre, nor is there much explanation regarding the event. I actually googled it to read the real account in order to get all the details I wanted. Another fail for me was that the book doesn't even mention the stock market crash of 1929 and the consequential start of the Great Depression. The author could have taken advantage of these major historical events, but instead she skips them and this prevents the story from really shining.
- The book catches up with Vera five years down the road, and I was disappointed that it didn't go into more detail on how she handled herself after the massacre and all of that. There are some brief snippets but I would have liked more.
Dollface is a fascinating look at a bygone era where gangsters ruled, alcohol was prohibited and girls in short beaded dresses danced and drank the night away. It is a deadly and disturbing period in U.S. history where organized crime reined supreme. If you are looking to dive into the roaring twenties and explore the gangster lifestyle give this book a go!
"Ah, that's just the gangster way. First they kill you, then they send you flowers."
"He's 'Humpty Dumpty," said Basha, snorting. "First he humps 'em and then he dumps 'em."