The Jazz Club Spy by Roberta Rich

In 1920, in Stulchyn, Ukraine, a girl hides inside the corpse of a cow during a pogrom carried out in her village. In 1939, in New York City, the same girl, now an adult woman, talks her way into a tale of intrigue, surprise, heartbreak, and vengeance. This is Roberta Rich’s novel The Jazz Club Spy, a whirlwind adventure in New York, starring a working-class Jewish woman. Giddy is a brash, fast-talking cigarette girl at a club, with a dream of someday owning her beauty shop, selling the makeup formulas that she perfects in her kitchen at home. Her focus is taking care of her mother, who has been shattered since the pogrom and their subsequent immigration to the United States; and her only living sibling, Arnold, who was born after they made it to New York. Giddy’s life is already complicated enough, with the secrets she doesn’t want to peer too deeply into sitting in their tenement with them.

Giddy gets swept up into an international incident when she spots the Cossack who attacked her home and mother and killed her siblings. Seeking revenge, Giddy instead brings the Cossack’s presence to the attention of Carter van der Zalm, a frequent patron of the club, and a man she’s had her eye on. Carter gets Giddy to learn more about the Cossack, and soon she finds herself in the middle of an assassination plot with global consequences, should it succeed. Rich is doing a lot in this novel – there are heaps of storylines and subplots – but it somehow never feels burdened by the busyness of the story. It’s written very well, with Giddy’s voice strong and clear: lots of Yiddish slang and speech patterns, and it’s a treat to read such a well-formed character.

“This is a fast-paced, surprisingly fun novel….Rich’s plucky heroine makes even the tensest, darkest moments easy to bear.”

This is a fast-paced, surprisingly fun novel. It’s got a lot of dark threads to the story: antisemitism, rape, depression, adultery, betrayal, treason, fascists. And yet Rich’s plucky heroine makes even the tensest, darkest moments easy to bear. Giddy’s role in her family’s life is to pull through, and that extends to how she tells her story, even as she navigates the betrayals and family secrets unearthed in her mission to stop an international incident and seek revenge for her past trauma. The Jazz Club Spy tiptoes the line of pulp but never quite crosses it; it makes use of lower-class New York as its blunt lens on the late 1930s, stripping away artifice and the spin of upper classes. Giddy is not ashamed of her life, and she knows who she is. This was also a welcome change from many historical novels set in that era: it’s sad but not bleak, and it focuses on a different kind of story than most WWII novels.


Roberta Rich is the #1 bestselling author of The Midwife of Venice, which was published in thirteen countries, The Harem Midwife, and A Trial in Venice. She divides her time between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Colima, Mexico. Visit her at RobertaRich.com.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Simon & Schuster; Canadian edition (Nov. 21 2023)
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 304 pages
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1982187729
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Alison Manley has ricocheted between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for most of her life. Now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is the Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at Saint Mary's University. Her past life includes a long stint as a hospital librarian on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. While she's adamant that her love of reading has nothing to do with her work, her ability to consume large amounts of information very quickly sure is helpful. She is often identified by her very red lipstick, and lives with her partner Brett and cat, Toasted Marshmallow.