Last Call at the Nightingale, by Katherine Schellman

Rating: 3 out of 5.

An atmosphere that transports you to the back alleys of 1920s New York in stellar fashion, with engaging characters walking through a story that is just shy of being good enough for them

Set around a speakeasy in prohibition era New York, Last Call at the Nightingale transports you to the world of Vivian Kelly, a girl who’s life hasn’t been especially rosy and is trying to find her place. Right now that place is surviving the drudgery of being a dime-rate seamstress by day, and escaping to the Nightingale to reinvent herself by night. Flanked by her friends Bea and Danny, employees of the Nightingale, and at constant odds with her puritanical sister, her life leaves a bit to be desired and she is constantly at risk of losing everything. Narrator Sara Young has a terrific voice for Vivian, and adds some depth to Vivian’s character that could have ended up lacking without her interpretation. Vivian has a great base as a character, but does get muddled by her naivete a bit too often, but Young helps her power through. 

The plot here intends to revolve around a murder mystery after Vivian and Bea find a body in the alley behind the club, but it bobs a weaves a bit too much for the mystery to ever really take hold. Instead, the bulk of the time is spent describing the rough and tumble 1920s New York scenery, and adding color to the characters. The sister shows up just often enough to keep Vivian’s guilt holding tight, their unfeeling boss is a proper tyrant, and you will wait with bated breath to learn whether the mysterious Leo Green or the manipulative but ultimately goodhearted club owner Honor will win the battle for Vivian’s heart (or body, depending on the mood). 

The atmosphere is truly the star of the Nightingale show, with vivid descriptions of the sights and sounds of the Jazz age. Vivian’s half-baked attempts at solving a mystery, based on what was ultimately a scheme of sorts that just happened to work out ok, takes her through a wide strata of social classes. Vivian herself lives in the projects (were they called that back then?), and you feel the struggles she has lived with when walking through her neighborhood. When delivering fancy dresses to fancy ladies in the upper echelons of society, it puts an even starker contrast on the different lives these women lead. 

The mystery itself isn’t bad, but does suffer from slower pacing and being a bit underwhelming giving the build up given to it in the last quarter or so of the book. This end section is also the fault in Young’s performance, as you get the feeling she knows the conclusion isn’t as climactic as intended so she overperforms to compensate. 

Despite some failings, it is just well rounded enough to have potential as the start to a new series. I won’t clamber for the next one, but will likely give it a shot when the time comes. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Dreamscape Media for an advance copy of this audiobook in exchange for my honest review. 

The Details:

Last Call at the Nightingale
Kathleen Schellman
Narrated by Sara Young
Published June 7, 2022 by Dreamscape Media
Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Mystery/Thriller

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