Friday, February 20, 2015

Scientist Jen J. Danna Authors New Forensic Mystery

Jen J. Danna is our guest blogger. As a scientist specializing in infectious diseases, Jen works as part of a dynamic research group at a cutting-edge Canadian university. Her true passion, however, is indulging her love of the mysterious through her writing. Together with her partner Ann Vanderlaan, she crafts suspenseful crime fiction with a realistic scientific edge for Five Star/Cengage. Jen lives near Toronto, Ontario with her husband and two daughters, and is a member of the Crime Writers of Canada.

The Killer Days of Prohibition

My writing partner Ann and I love to find an interesting theme around which to base each of our Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries. Be it fire, witchcraft or photography, we use the theme as an overarching concept in our storytelling. From our point of view, it makes writing the novel more interesting. But, clearly, readers enjoy it also since that is one of the most noted aspects of our writing in reviews. In TWO PARTS BLOODY MURDER, the overarching theme is the history of Prohibition that backs the entire case that Matt, Leigh and the team are investigating.
Prohibition was an interesting time in American history, and to this day the Eighteenth Amendment remains the only amendment to the Constitution of the United States to be repealed. Amendment XVIII, ratified in January 1920, was an attempt to shape social change: because alcohol was seen as the ‘devil’s brew’ and people were considered too weak to escape its clutches, temperance was federally legislated. An interesting aspect of that legislation was that it was only illegal to produce, transport, store, or sell alcohol. Once in a person’s possession, it was completely legal for individuals to possess and drink it. Amendment XXI repealed Amendment XVIII more than a decade later.
Prohibition was doomed from the start for several reasons. First and foremost, it proved to be impossible to enforce. Not only were the country’s legislators and enforcers—politicians and law enforcement at multiple levels—breaking the law themselves by continuing to imbibe, but the overwhelming majority of people themselves were unhappy with the law, and went to extreme lengths to circumvent it, sometimes at risk to their own lives.
But one of the biggest reasons Prohibition failed was the rise of both the Mob and the black market to fill the hole left by the removal of legal alcohol sales. When demand for the product went underground, so did the supply. Alcohol was brought by boat into ports like Boston and New York, or was carried overland from border countries Canada and Mexico. Speakeasies—illegal establishments for the express purpose of selling alcohol—flourished, most run by the Mob. Some speakeasies were world-class entertainments in major cities like New York or Chicago, boasting expensive drinks and elaborate floor shows. Jazz was the music of the day and many musicians got their start playing in speakeasies. But behind the glitz and glamour, a war waged between rival mobs and between those same mobs and law enforcement. Violence skyrocketed as individual mobs fought to corner local markets, often at the expense of mob and civilian bystanders; gang shootings in the streets and massacres were not uncommon during the time. Mob bosses rose to superstardom when they used their amassed riches to open soup kitchens for the poor during the Depression, further complicating law enforcement’s attempts to shut them down because they were so well loved by the common man.
This is the fascinating backdrop of TWO PARTS BLOODY MURDER—the world of clandestine speakeasies, the mob and dirty politicians:

Prohibition was a time of clandestine excess—short skirts, drinking, dancing . . . and death. But a murder committed so many years ago still has the power to reverberate decades later with deadly consequences.
It’s a double surprise for Trooper Leigh Abbott as she investigates a cold case and discovers two murder victims in a historic nineteenth-century building. Together with forensic anthropologist Matt Lowell and medical examiner Dr. Edward Rowe, she uncovers the secrets of a long-forgotten, Prohibition-era speakeasy in the same building. But when the two victims are discovered to be relatives—their deaths separated by over eighty years—the case deepens, and suddenly the speakeasy is revealed as ground zero for a cascade of crimes through the decades. When a murder committed nearly forty years ago comes under fresh scrutiny, the team realizes that an innocent man was wrongly imprisoned and the real murderer is still at large. Now they must solve three murders spanning over eighty years if they hope to set a wronged man free.
TWO PARTS BLOODY MURDER is out this week and can be found at your favorite booksellers:,,, and Barnes and Noble.

Note: Your thoughts and comments are most welcome here.


Susan Oleksiw said...

The history is fascinating. I had no idea the mob opened and ran soup kitchens. Good luck with your new book.

Jen J. Danna said...

Hi Susan, thanks for stopping by to comment. Actually, Al Capone was one of the best known superstar gangsters. He opened soup kitchens in Chicago to feed the starving and the public loved him for it. Needless to say, that didn't help law enforcement, who was trying to paint him as the bad guy and send him to jail! Smart move on Capone's part.

Alice Duncan said...

Oooooh, this book sounds wonderful! The 1920s were SO interesting. Best of luck with the book, Jen.

Jen J. Danna said...

Alice, they were definitely interesting times! Thanks so much for the good wishes.

allan j emerson said...

Sounds intriguing. Like Susan, I had no idea the mob did "good works." Makes more sense why the public seemed to admire them more than condemning them.


Jen J. Danna said...

Allan, these were pretty smart guys who figured out quickly that a lot of their shady dealings would be forgiven by the common people if aid was given at no cost to them. These were desperate times for a large number of people, who were scraping by just to survive, and it likely was a matter of life or death for many of them.

Thanks for stopping by!