Francis Spufford’s Cahokia Jazz follows Detective Joe Barrow, guiding us through the complicated cultural avenues of the fictitious American city of Cahokia during the 1920s. It opens with a murder which, on its surface, appears a simple case to solve, but becomes complex when it transpires that the victim was ritualistically murdered – and affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan.
The starting point for a major turn of events, with Detective Barrow new to the city and with a suspicious police partner in Phin Drummond, he must separate reality and fantasy to determine the cause of the aggravations. Spufford’s complex portrayal of the city and its factions takes time to absorb, but once the story picks up pace the city also becomes a strong character within the plot.
An understanding of the mix of vibrant and rich characters holding influence across different parts of the city is key and comprises of takouma, a person native to the continent; takata, a person of European extraction; and taklousa, a person of African ancestry. The musical influences, particularly relating to the main character, create a rich tale evocative of the jazz era: this prizewinning author has provided another original take on historical fiction.
Cahokia Jazz, Francis Spufford (Faber)
Price: £18. Info: here
words RHIANON HOLLEY