Flesh and Gold by Ann Aptaker is the 4th book in the Cantor Gold Crime series and has been well worth the wait. Like Aptaker’s previous books it is possible to read this book as a standalone, but you will have missed so much richness of story, virtuoso description and background. Reading the earlier volumes is well worth the investment in time and money.
Cantor Gold, the strutting butch art thief, is back but this time in Havana in 1952. She has exchanged her fedora and wool coat for a panama and pale linen suits as she continues her search for Sophie the lost love of her life. Aptaker has taken out her artist’s palette of words, and I am in heaven once again with the lushness and cleverness. For example, describing the contrasts of Havana. Depending on how you live life, Havana in the early morning is either a sweetly scented princess just waking, or a fleshy, perfumed harlot staggering home after a long night.
The story begins as Cantor Gold arrives at New York airport with serious cash in her pocket and a photo of her beloved Sophie having paid 10,000 dollars for the information that Sophie was kidnapped and forced on a ‘flesh boat’ to Havana. She had waited over three years for Sig Loreale, the crime boss, to present her with the information. Instead, he has either forced or blackmailed her time after time to do work for him all the while promising to help her and never doing so. Despite not giving her any information, once Cantor arrives at the airport, Sig seizes her and forces her to deliver an envelope for him when she gets to Havana, and thus, the story begins.
We experience the story through Cantor Gold’s eyes as she is pushed and pulled on her journey to find Sophie. We get to know her thoughts and feelings as she goes between hope, fear and despair. She is still a standout in the local scenery with her haircut, which she describes as an unruly crop both short and brown that is like an old broom or a tangled mop; and her men’s suits, with her very masculine behaviour and her love of having a woman on her arm. Her story arc in Havana means that she finds herself being led through the underbelly by the different forces that are at play, consisting of Cuban gangsters, American Mobsters and some very nasty women.
Numerous other characters feature in the story, but I believe that Agnes Cain, businesswoman and owner of a top of the line house (read Madam), is one that merits special attention. Cantor knew her some years ago when she was a street girl or working girl in someone else’s house. She reminds Cantor of a puffy Ava Gardner. To run a brothel, Agnes has to manage relationships with working girls and clients, but also with the various mobsters and street gangs that are prevalent at the time. I promise her actions will surprise you.
The Writing Style
From the frontispiece, I gather that Aptaker struggled at times with this book, but you would never know from the writing. Cantor Gold is at her most forceful and yet most sensitive. The storyline goes from action to thriller and back to mystery as each page is turned. The emotions that are drawn from the reader range from a pounding heart and fear to tears, and you are relentlessly brought along on Cantor Gold’s journey. Besides, there is all that beautiful description that leaves you marvelling at the various portraits and landscapes of Havana before Castro.
This is the best of the four books so far. I was heavily invested from the beginning, and I felt I was on a roller coaster ride from the first chapter. To finally know that Cantor Gold is getting closer to her lost love but yet is sidetracked into theft and murder is both frightening and exhilarating at times.
I have no cons personally as I believe the storyline around street walking, brothels, pimps and madams is necessary to explain the story. However, I would be remiss not to mention that this is a tour of the bowels of Havana. It features prostitution and how it affects Cantor; the poor treatment of women in that time; and perhaps more importantly degradation and inhumane events that happened involving women with no control over their lives.
There is so much in this book that will keep you glued to each page. The words reward the time you spend thinking about them. There is action, yes. It is all an adventure. There are murder and mayhem, and you will be transported to a different world. Cantor Gold is one in a million and is a pleasure getting to know.
Excerpt from Flesh and Gold by Ann Aptaker
The shop is stuffed with all kinds of straw hats on sagging wooden shelves along pale orange walls, which could use a paint job. The slowly turning ceiling fan barely moves the hot, thick air. There’s a counter along the back wall, tended by a bored señorita whose boredom is jolted when she sees me, gets my drift, and looks at me as if I’m a contamination oozing through her shop. Pity. Someone whose brown eyes are that pretty shouldn’t fill them with so much disgust.
I tip the brim of my panama—I’m always polite to women, even if they give me the stink eye—and trot out my flimsy Spanish, keeping things businesslike. “Hablas inglés, señorita?”
“Sí, little. But it is no matter,” she says, her eyes sliding to barely look at me in that way that means she really wants to look at me, wants to stare in horrified curiosity. “They tell me you come. They tell me look for woman who is not woman.”
I’ve been called a lot of things in my life—some of it made me angry, some made me laugh. This one, a new line of insult, is the laugh sort. I counter it with a little smutty fun of my own. “Yeah, well, they didn’t give you the real story. Wanna see?” I put my hand to my fly as if to unzip.
“No!” Her hands rush to her face as if warding off an attack of disease-carrying mosquitos. Tossing her head, she says, “You go there now. In there!” and waves me to a door behind her.
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Cantor Gold Crime Series
Flesh and Gold
Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781635552690
- Publisher: Bold Stroke Books
- Ann Aptaker Online
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