THE RED STORM by Grant Bywaters: Book Review

William Fletcher, formerly a professional boxer and currently a private eye, isn’t finding life easy.  Fletcher was working in New York City in the early 1920s after the end of his boxing career led him to become “muscle” for Bill Storm, a low-level gangster.  Storm had become desperate in seeking ways to make money after his unpredictable behavior led other criminals to avoid giving him jobs, so he kidnapped the son of a wealthy family and was holding him for ransom.

When he called on Fletcher to watch the boy while he left them to obtain the ransom, Fletcher freed the boy and waited for Storm’s return.  A fight ensued with Fletcher being badly beaten, but both men were able to escape before the police arrived.

Fifteen years later, Fletcher has relocated to New Orleans, earning a precarious living as the only licensed black investigator in the city.  He hasn’t been in touch with Storm during all those years, but now Storm has tracked him down and is looking for a favor.  He tells Fletcher he has a daughter whom he hasn’t seen since she was an infant, more than twenty years earlier.  Now he’s dying and wants to meet with her before his death.  He’s been told that his former wife is now living in New Orleans, and he has convinced himself that if his wife is found, their daughter will be with her.

Fletcher reluctantly agrees to look for Storm’s wife, Frieda Rae.  Armed only with a photograph of the woman that was taken years before, Fletcher locates a woman who recognizes the woman in the photo.  She tells the detective that Frieda Rae died just a few months earlier, but she’s heard that the woman’s daughter is singing at some low-down blues joint on Bourbon Street.  So Fletcher heads that way to locate her.

He finds the young woman, as he was told, singing in a club that is really more of a brothel.  But she’s simply a vocalist, not a prostitute, and goes by the name Lady Storm.  When she’s told that her father wants to see her, she tells Fletcher she’ll have to think about it.  Feeling he’s done his job, Fletcher leaves, only to get a call a few hours later from his friend Brawley, a detective on the city’s police force.

The police have discovered Bill Storm’s body with a bullet hole in the back of his head on a street in the French Quarter.  In his pocket there’s a note saying “Meet me in Congo Square at 11:30 tonight.–Zella.”  That’s Storm’s daughter’s real name.

The Red Storm is a great read, due in part to its terrific characters and its sense of place.  The Crescent City of the 1930s is alive with jazz, blues, ladies of easy virtue, corrupt cops, and more.  William Fletcher is a flawed hero but a real man.

You can read more about Grant Bywaters at various sites on the Internet.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

 

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