Cahokia Jazz by Francis Spufford [9/10]

A voluptuous stylist with honed storytelling chops and lyrical descriptive skills, Francis Spufford is rightly famed for his two previous novels. Golden Hill and Light Perpetual. His new novel, Cahokia Jazz, is a departure of genre but equally impressive and engrossing. Set in a counter-factual 1922 in which American Indians retained land and some power, in a counter-factual city near St Louis, the book is also a noir gumshoe classic, with a hefty police detective (brilliantly also portrayed as an ex-Jjazz pianist) clumsily pursuing a ritualistic murder. This world is ruled by American Indians, of a type steeped in Inca myths, and the author brilliantly weaves together the strands of the three intertwined groups (whites, Indians, and blacks). Every scene is drenched in the atmosphere of a rich, three-race city setting. I caught echoes of the Chinatown movie and Jonathen Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn in the roughshod, smart exploits of the appealing detective. The plot can be expected to twist and turn, and so it does, all under effective control. Cahokia Jazz is a complex, engrossing, exhilarating literary/mystery mash-up that catapults towards an ending both startling and totally logical. If you haven’t experienced Spufford magic yet, dive in!

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