Set in 1933, The Yankee Club is a historically aware thriller that blends the age of Prohibition with a love story and a flair for espionage. The protagonist, Jake Donovan, is a retired gumshoe-turned-novelist who returns to New York with the hopes of reclaiming his lost love, Laura, and finishing the latest of his hardboiled pulps. But danger awaits him on his old stomping grounds, where low-level mobsters want revenge and his ex-girlfriend drags him into a conspiracy aimed at establishing a more communistic approach to the American dream.
Michael Murphy’s prose is quick, and quick-witted, with a blend of easy style and substance that found me breezing through the book in one sitting. I’m no expert on Prohibition but I recognized the clever inclusion of the musician Cole Porter (and a shout-out to “Anything Goes”), as well as that of Babe Ruth as a New York Yankee (that could’ve moved this Red Sox fan to tears). It’s all layers of the story that add to its genuineness as a period piece, but which don’t distract from the main flow.
Even after Donovan’s ex-private eye partner is gunned down and Donovan himself is left for dead, we’re still most concerned with whether Jake can recapture Laura’s heart. She’s engaged to another man, one who we’re quickly disposed to liking, even as the plot broadens, and we recognize that a group of influential businessmen are unhappy with FDR’s New Deal. Suddenly, we’ve ratcheted up from a breezy Dick Tracy to a more clandestine story, mixing in Donovan’s old friends, police corruption, and much more.
Murphy quietly welcomes us into this world he created, but quickly makes us care about his characters, even as we laugh along with some of the lighter moments. This is a terrific read, and I highly recommend it!