“Shrines of Gaiety” is a raucous, action packed novel about a matriarch led family that owns numerous, very profitable nightclubs. The story takes place during a short period of time in 1926, after World War I, and begins when the matriarch, Nellie Coker, is being released from prison.
Nellie has six children who are more or less somehow involved in the nightclub business. Edith, the oldest daughter, is the child Nellie trusts the most with the business. Nevin, the oldest son has been in the war, is extremely principled and seems to have little interest in the nightclubs. Shirley and Betty each run a club and have been highly educated in the hopes they each will find a husband who is a member of the landed gentry. “To Nellie, money without a title was almost as bad as a title without money.” Ramsay is a 21 year old drug addicted dreamer who wants to write a novel and is struggling with his sexual identity. Finally, Kitty is an 11 year old afterthought. Shirley, Betty, Edith and Ramsay each run a nightclub. No one nightclub is the same and each caters to a different class of patron. However, each nightclub has girls who are paid to dance with male patrons. London is in post war insanity during the period reflected in the novel.
After Nellie is released from prison it becomes clear that there are a number of people who want to either take her down or take over her fiefdom. First is the police officer Maddox, who Nellie has been paying for protection but who is seeking to take control of her empire. Next is Detective Chief Inspector John Frobisher, who is looking to close down the clubs due to illegal activities. Finally, there is a mysterious man named Azzopardi who seems to want to bring down the empire, but might it be something else?
Enter Gwendolen Kellig, formerly a part time librarian in York, who is rescued by Nevin but is “spying” for Frobisher. Gwendolen has come to London to search for her friend’s sister, Freda, and Freda’s friend, Florence. Freda and Florence have run away to London, where dead girls are being found in the Thames on almost a daily basis. Freda has run away seeking to be a star, after being attacked by her mother’s boyfriend. Freda’s sister had suggested that Freda could work in a library. “’The Library?’ Freda echoed, unable to keep the horror out of her voice. A library—the deathliest place on earth.”
All of the characters come together in the context of the nightclubs and the story has many twists and turns. Nellie’s character is based on the story of real life Kate Meyrick, who “was the queen of Soho’s clubland” during the same time period.
The novel is loads of fun and beautifully written. This is a definite do not miss! You can reserve the “Shrines of Gaiety” at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.