|Harriet Tubman, an African American abolitionist and conductor|
of the Underground Railroad. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"Della crouched behind the shrubs, held on to
Cece, and prayed they hadn't been noticed.
Through the scant leaf cover, she could no longer
see the mounted patrolman who'd appeared a
block away. Just the same view of the lifeless
Richmond neighborhood with its red brick homes,
every window black at four in the morning.
"The nearby James River rapids roared and the
singsong of the night insects further muffled the
cop's movements--just as they had earlier muted
the women's escape from the plantation...
"She felt Cece recoil beside her, and she knew the
younger woman had also spotted the emblem.
This was no ordinary policeman but a deputy
of the Fugitive Slave Agency..."
By Ray Chen Smith
If there is another book out there that has taken the history of "The Underground Railroad" and made it into one of the most exciting thrillers I've read, I'll be very surprised. We all learned and studied about the Railroad, but not until Smith's book had I thought about the depth of the danger involved...
Or the lack of real change after the Civil War had ended...
The Jazz Cage takes place in 1924, 60 years after the War...But that did not mean that the slaves had been
freed. Especially for those that had been owned by rich white men!
Wills was a millionaire, mostly made from bootlegging, as the Prohibition was still in effect. And he is the true villain in this book, although there are many! Wills was known as monster to the female slaves. Cece had been traumatized when he took her when she was just 10. Now at 20, she would still escape into that place that women go when being abused in ways no child could ever understand.
Della was also there, but she was a stronger woman and had only hate to keep her that way. Cece was not able to be on her own. They called her changes before "It" and after "It" and when something threw her back into her real life, her eyes would glaze over and Della knew she was not there at that time...But she kept Cece with her and when she had a chance, she and Cece left with the representative of the Underground Railroad....
Frank McCluey is certainly an unlikely hero, yet that's what he became. He was a bounty hunter working for the mob and Wills had sent him on the hunt...
Whether Frank had already started to change when he'd lost his lover who was "considered a red commie," or whether he just could not stand to send the two women back into Wills' house, or perhaps it was because Della hated him so much and he started to feel guilty... Why is unimportant, because Frank chose to help the two escape!
Frank also had a young man with him--Isaac was the heir apparent of the mob boss, and Frank had been asked to keep him safe. So when he had decided to help the women, he tried to send Isaac back home. But Isaac had become close to Frank and respected him. He chose to stay and help...
So here's what we have readers, we have the abolitionists and those that oppose their activities. We have the mob and their concerns about running booze. We have the local law officers in any given place, and we have those who work directly for the rich men who are sent out to "assist..."
And then we have the Hound...A Confederate agent who discovered early in his life that anybody who crossed him, could be...eliminated...
Readers will enjoy the chase as one group versus another get into the action. But no matter what, Frank chose to stay with Della and Cece. The first mix-up resulted in the guide for Della and Cece being killed...along with the group that had been chasing. But Della had taken careful notes and they soon started toward the next hiding location. When they finally got there, everything was dusty and looked like it hadn't been used for a very long time--but at least there was canned food!
The relationship between Della and Frank went between fear and anger, with no trust from Della and Frank afraid of being near Cece because she now considered every white man a monster...
Believe it! There was no way that I had earlier been "involved" with the run experienced by those slaves who were even lucky enough to make contact with the abolitionists. This book takes you into that hunt. I called it an exciting thriller at the beginning, which it probably is for a specific genre...but, believe me, you soon have no ability to be anything but sympathetic and holding your breath as each time Frank or Della succeed in making it through another chase or trap...
And the action never stops. You will possibly cry, as I did, at the end when it looks like there are just too many in the chase against the three...You will experience the panic, the feeling of defeat...
And the amazing ending...
If you, too, never "felt" the feelings of those escaping slavery, please make this a must-read, like I consider it. BRH has missed Black History Month by a few days...but this book is highly recommended as a literary statement that we should all experience during this time of looking back in "our own history"...
In his late twenties, he wrote a literary novel set in China then decided it wasn't fit for public consumption. He did, however, chop up a couple of parts and sold the chunks to literary magazines. (Both stories can be downloaded for free from his website.)
For his second novel, he decided to go unabashedly commercial, and The Jazz Cage is the result.
He is currently finishing up his third novel, a thriller titled Dawn at Midnight.
Further information--the aforementioned short stories, a more detailed biography--can be found on Ray's website:
He also welcomes comments, positive or otherwise, to his email address: