Sunday, August 27, 2023

On My Radar: Francis Spufford's Cahokia Jazz!


Since none of you have ever seen me review a book from this genre, you'll probably be surprised to learn that alternative history books used to be among my favorites. "What if?" has always been a phrase that gets my mind to pondering. I haven't gone out of my way to search for books in this genre, but I did manage to stumble across one quite by accident.

The thing that immediately caught my eye about British author Francis Spufford's Cahokia Jazz is the word "Cahokia". I've always been fascinated with the history of the Indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere, and I have very special memories of visiting the Cahokia Mounds in southwestern Illinois. In AD 1250, the city of Cahokia was larger than London and contained 120 earthen mounds, many of which were massive pyramids. If you'd like to learn more about this fascinating culture, you can visit this Washington Post article or the website for Cahokia Mounds.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that Spufford has written a detective novel set in the 1920s that imagines how American history would be different if, instead of being decimated, Indigenous populations had thrived. It sounds right up my street. Let me share more information about it!

Available February 6, 2024!


"Like his earlier novel Golden Hill, Francis Spufford’s Cahokia Jazz inhabits a different version of America, now through the lens of a subtly altered 1920s—a fully imagined world full of fog, cigarette smoke, dubious motives, danger, dark deeds. And in the main character of Joe Barrow, we have a hero of truly epic proportions, a troubled soul to fall in love with as you are swept along by a propulsive and brilliantly twisty plot.

On a snowy night at the end of winter, Barrow and his partner find a body on the roof of a skyscraper. Down below, streetcar bells ring, factory whistles blow, Americans drink in speakeasies and dance to the tempo of modern times. But this is Cahokia, the ancient indigenous city beside the Mississippi living on as a teeming industrial metropolis, filled with people of every race and creed. Among them, peace holds. Just about. But that corpse on the roof will spark a week of drama in which this altered world will spill its secrets and be brought, against a soundtrack of jazz clarinets and wailing streetcars, either to destruction or rebirth.

I know this sort of thing isn't to everyone's taste, but I couldn't resist sharing my find. The question is... did I manage to tempt any of you? Inquiring minds would love to know!


  1. This one definitely appeals, Cathy! Music, a murder mystery, the Cahokia culture? Yeah, definitely! As a matter of fact, when we lived in Illinois, my daughter's fourth grade trip was to the Cahokia mounds. I hadn't thought about that in a long time. I hope this one's as good as it sounds.

  2. I have never heard of the Cahokia people nor of a book like this. It sounds fascinating.

    1. I know the Cahokia civilization is fascinating, and I'm interested in finding out how much of the culture the author uses in his book.

  3. I await your review, but I will probably try to find this book.


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