The Literary Horizon: A Trace of Smoke, Evening’s Empire

Usually, I try and tie together the two books featured on The Literary Horizon based on genre, story, or location, but today I’m going to tie them together by the source I found them in–The New York Times Sunday Book Review. (This is easier than pretending they’re related due to the use of music in both of them.) So, off to prewar Berlin and the history of rock and roll!

A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell

Even though hardened crime reporter Hannah Vogel knows all too well how tough it is to survive in 1931 Berlin, she is devastated when she sees a photograph of her brother’s body posted in the Hall of the Unnamed Dead. Ernst, a cross-dressing lounge singer at a seedy nightclub, had many secrets, a never-ending list of lovers, and plenty of opportunities to get into trouble.

Hannah delves into the city’s dark underbelly to flush out his murderer, but the late night arrival of a five-year-old orphan on her doorstep complicates matters. The endearing Anton claims that Hannah is his mother… and that her dead brother Ernst is his father.

As her investigations into Ernst’s murder and Anton’s parentage uncover political intrigue and sex scandals in the top ranks of the rising Nazi party, Hannah fears not only for her own life, but for that of a small boy who has come to call her “mother.”

via Amazon

I watched Cabaret (at least, parts of it) for the first time a few months ago, and the decadence of prewar Berlin against the rise of the Nazis is an interesting setting that’s, naturally, rife with conflict. I usually shy away from mysteries, but the setting and how Cantrell might handle a period queer character have piqued my interest.

Jayne at Dear Author gushes over A Trace of Smoke, over everything from its pacing to its characterization to Cantrell’s depiction of food. She especially points out that Cantrell doesn’t throw in gratuitous German, although I certainly hope she kept the honorifics in German! Uriah at Crime Scraps lavished just as much praise on it, which definitely makes me think I’ve made the right choice putting this particular mystery on my ever-expanding reading list.

A Trace of Smoke was released on May 12, 2009.

Evening’s Empire by Bill Flanagan


THE YEAR IS 1967. In England, and around the world, rock music is exploding—the Beatles have gone psychedelic, the Stones are singing “Ruby Tuesday,” and the summer of love is approaching. For Jack Flynn, a newly minted young solicitor at a conservative firm, the rock world is of little interest—until he is asked to handle the legal affairs of Emerson Cutler, the seductive front man for an up-and-coming group of British boys with a sound that could take them all the way.Thus begins Jack Flynn’s career with the Ravons, a forty-year journey through London in the sixties, Los Angeles in the seventies, New York in the eighties, into Eastern Europe, Africa, and across America, as Flynn tries to manage his clients through the highs of stardom, the has-been doldrums, sellouts, reunions, drug busts, bad marriages, good affairs, and all the temptations, triumphs, and vanities that complicate the businesses of music and friendship.

Spanning the decades and their shifting ideologies, from the wild abandon of the sixties to the cold realities of the twenty-first century, Evening’s Empire is filled with surprising, sharply funny, and perceptive riffs on fame, culture, and world events. A firsthand observer and remarkable storyteller, author Bill Flanagan has created an epic of rock-and-roll history that is also the life story of a generation.

via Amazon

For some reason, I’m ridiculously fond of the 1960s at the moment. (This is on top of my permanent love for the 1980s.) It’s a blend of Team Fortress 2, Jersey Boys, and a script I’m working on with some friends at the moment, but something about that decade is calling out to me at the moment. So what better to indulge that with than a book about rock and roll that starts there, from a music executive who surely knows his stuff?

The New York Times‘ review points out that Flanagan often relies on period references too much to anchor himself, and that he gives rock and roll a neat ending, despite the contrary occurring right now. Michael at Teenage Kicks, however, adored it. Since it’s a recent release, I didn’t find any book blogger reviews of it, although it shares its title with several other books. Still, I’m fairly new to behind the music books, so I think I’ll be happy with it.

Evening’s Empire was released January 5.

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