Romancing the Rumrunner by Michelle McLean

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She’s worked too hard to be run out of town…

Jessica Harlan spends her nights as The Phoenix, the owner of the most popular speakeasy in town. Her days are spent running her respectable butcher shop and dodging prohibition agents and rival club owners who all want to put her out of business.

He’s worked too hard to let his heart get in the way…

When the opportunity arises to go undercover for the Feds to catch The Phoenix, Gumshoe Anthony Solomon jumps on it. But he never suspected the notorious rumrunner would be a dame – or that he’d be so drawn to the feisty little minx.

They play a dangerous game of cat and mouse, knowing they can’t trust the other, but unable to walk away. While their hearts dodge the crossfire, the mobsters raise the stakes, and even The Phoenix may not rise again.

Publisher and Release Date:  Entangled Scandalous, June 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Prohibition Era/Chicago
Genre:  Historical Romance
Heat Level:  2
Reviewer Rating:  3.5 stars

Review by Susan:

A woman of the Roaring ‘20s, Jessica Harlan is depicted as a modern gal in Michelle McLean’s Romancing the Rumrunner.  After inheriting a butcher’s shop from her father, Jessica becomes proficient at grading, chopping, and packaging a variety of meats.  Her breadth of knowledge is equally expansive about the variety of liquors – which comes in handy for her alter-ego as the owner of The Red Phoenix, a fashionable speakeasy in Chicago.  Though terms like “Prohibition”, “flappers”, “bootleggers”, “flimflam man”, and “mobsters” are sprinkled throughout the story, the reader is never fully immersed in the 1920’s as the characters feel too much like 21st century people who have been transplanted to the era of speakeasies and Prohibition.

Part of the problem is that Jessica does not embrace the era of rampant indulgence sweeping across the globe.  The narration reveals a life that is stifling and harsh.   Her struggle with the laws about selling liquor to customers is relatable to modern day struggles against laws that impose unrealistic restrictions on society (such as laws that restrict the size of soft drinks sold at fast food restaurants or laws that prohibit establishments from selling hot drinks in foam cups).   Jessica’s conflict with Prohibition turns her into an incessant complainer but not necessarily an advocate for flexible laws that place realistic restrictions on people.  Thus, the story has a socially political angle which makes it relevant to today’s readers with the capability of transcending the 1920’s.

Ms McLean incorporates the infamous Mob by placing Jessica in the difficult position of having to repay her father’s debt to Chicago’s ring of gangsters.  She juggles the illicit life of a rumrunner at her speakeasy and paying back her father’s debt to the Mob while dodging Prohibition agent Earl Jameson and private investigator Tony Solomon who are both nipping at her heels, eager to obtain solid evidence against her.  Though the characters of Earl and Tony are veritably similar at the start as both are working to catch Jessica selling liquor to customers, slowly Tony’s compassionate side comes out.   He sees the person beneath Jessica’s surface and gradually helps to undo her ties from the Mob.  The steamy and sensually descriptive scenes with them are touching.  Unfortunately, Tony isn’t as supportive of Jessica’s efforts to be a singer and live performer.

Jessica is written as an independent woman who is self-sufficient and able to make choices for herself without requiring the approval of another individual.  She isn’t the type of woman that one would expect from the 1920’s.  Meanwhile, Tony is a smooth talker who could sell ketchup to a Parisian chef.

The idea behind the story is riveting though the delivery lacks believability.  The main characters come off as modern day people, even though their struggles are relatable to contemporary problems.  The author’s writing style keeps the reader connected to the evolving stages of the story letting the audience in on the characters secrets, while working towards their happiness, which is the main objective of the tale.

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