Book Cover for Criminal Gold By Ann AptakerSet in New York City in 1949 featuring Cantor Gold, dapper dyke-about-town, a smuggler of fine art and saviour of damsels in distress.

Looking at the blurb of Criminal Gold the description of Cator Gold as dapper dyke-about-town immediately got my attention. What a catchy phrase! But would the writing of debut novelist Ann Aptaker deliver what the sassy blurb promised? Well to sum it up: This is a brilliantly written book which makes every lover of historical fiction swoon with bliss. And for all who like to have a glimpse back into what organized crime was like in NYC after WW II  and living as a dyke this is an illuminating read.

So what is Criminal Gold all about? Cantor Gold, dapper dyke-about-town, a smuggler of fine art, waits in her boat under the Brooklyn Bridge quietly going about her „business“. Enters Opal Shaw or rather the dead body of Opal falling from the bridge. She not only sinks Cantor’s boat but all hope of finishing her business.

Turns out Opal was the lover of the scariest crime boss in town and he got the idea that Cantor will find the murderer, or else! What ensues is a night of danger, desire and double-cross which takes the reader back and forth through NYC. A femme fatale is nearly Cantor’s downfall until it comes to the final showdown at a dark pier in the middle of the night.

By the standards of her time, Cantor is an outlaw at the very fringes of society: a bold butch dressing in men’s clothes. And she owns her eccentric status figuring that she doesn’t own anything to a society that treats her like a criminal anyhow. She has her morals though and a soft spot for women and damsels in distress.

Criminal Gold reminded me of an old black and white crime movie from the 50s with a healthy touch of noir. Ann Aptaker easily takes us back in time to NYC of 1949 with dirty cops, gun-slinging gangsters, beautiful ladies and impressive cars. There are a lot of descriptive passages where Cantor with her keen observations gives us visual details of architecture, cars, interior design, people. I loved how these vivid observations took me back as a reader into this period of time. It had me stand right there e.g. at the pier at night hearing the fog-horn and the water slugging against the wall.

Another feature that stuck out was how quick action is interlaced with Cantor’s ruminations about life, the City, living as a dyke. I relished getting a feel of how lesbians have lived in that time of oppression. However, if you plan to read this book you should be willing to read about police brutality including corrective rape.

As I already indicated this book is a historical crime novel, it is by no means a romance and it doesn’t focus on it. Instead, you get a very original book as eccentric in the best sense as its main character.

Ann’s writing is a treat to read. It is fluent, well-edited, eloquent. The diction and use of slang words add patina and flavour. The ruminations about life and the descriptions of the surroundings add depth and flesh out the historical setting. The dialogues are sharp, cheeky and pitch-perfect. All references to art and art-smuggling are spot-on. Kudos to Ann Aptaker for this gem of a book that will delight lovers of historical fiction and noir.

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