Rusted Rails Book Review
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In Barry Jones’ historical suspense novel, Rusted Rails, Edward Hawkins, a reporter for the Nashville Tennessean, is traveling on assignment to several coal mining towns to gather information on the destitute lifestyles of the miners and their families. It’s 1928, and coal is a valuable commodity, but there are no safety rules for mines, no labor unions for workers, and when there are accidents, the miners are blamed. As Hawkins gets off the train in Wilder, just outside of Nashville, he watches Jeffrey Hughes excitedly waiting for his mother, Jenny Hughes. Unfortunately, Jenny doesn’t get off the train, and Hawkins remembers seeing a woman on one of the previous stops who was whisked off by some men when she fell ill. Assuming it was Jenny, Hawkins promises Jeffrey’s Grandmother that he will find out what happened to Jenny.
Hawkins is to be in Wilder for three days, and while interviewing miners, coal company bosses, and prominent citizens of the town, he learns of a mob-run illegal abortion ring that is apparently thriving. Jenny had found out she was pregnant shortly after her husband, David, had been killed in a mining accident, and since the owners of the Fentress Mine offer no compensation to families of deceased miners, felt she had no choice but to seek an abortion. During his investigation to locate Jenny, Hawkins meets Rose, the town prostitute, who refers women needing abortions to the proper persons. He also has dinner with a group of professors who are on a hiking holiday; they become friends, and play a significant role in locating Jenny. During this time, Al Capone and his mobsters are very active in their illegal dealings, and have the funds to pay off authorities and order hits on anyone thwarting their operations. They are a formidable foe for Edward Hawkins and his cohorts.
Jones has done extensive research on the lifestyles of miners in the small coal mining areas; he has woven his fictional story and fictional characters through factual events and scenarios. The 1920s were slower times, and even though the FBI was being established by Herbert Hoover, it was short staffed, and the methods of communication were archaic and slow compared to now; there were no computers linking suspects, and no databases with fingerprints. The mob seemed to prevail, and in most cases their crimes went unpunished. Miners who didn’t die in accidents in the mines died of black lung at young ages. Money was scarce, and the stock market crash was looming.
Although Rusted Rails is a fast read, events in the book do not move fast, and readers will experience vicariously what it was like during those times. Some of characters could use a bit more development, but Jones does well in separating the bad guys from the good guys. There is some suspense through the novel, especially where the mob is involved, and some of the characters put themselves in danger without thinking beforehand of what will surely be dire consequences. There are, unfortunately, numerous minor editing and grammatical errors, which should have been caught by a professional editor; while there are many, they are not so bad as to take away from the story.
Rusted Rails is an excellent novel for a fairly new author; the fascinating historical facts, paired with a good story, make for a good read. Historical suspense lovers will enjoy this novel, and as a bonus will learn a bit about happenings in the coal mining towns in the 1920s.
Special thanks to Barry Jones for supplying a review copy of this book.
This book may be purchased at Amazon: Rusted Rails
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