Dollface: A Novel of the Roaring Twenties. Renee Rosen. Penguin Group USA. November 2013. 416 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780451419200.
“Dollface” was the name frequently given to girlfriends of mobsters during the “Flapper” years of the Roaring Twenties. To be so labeled was an honor, indicating the woman was highly protected and fawned on, but at a very great cost. Vera Abramowitz appears initially as a girl who thought she was escaping a world of drudgery by fleeing to Chicago. Her father had been killed by the Black Hand Gang and she wanted nothing of that life or of the meat packing plant her mother was now running, an amazing feat in itself in this era when women were only just starting to work in offices and factories but certainly not in management. Vera doesn’t quite see it that way and is barely making her meager bills with her typist’s salary. But two men are about to change Vera’s entire world and introduce her to the world of flashy living, guns, mobster hits, illegal booze running, and more toughness than any sane woman would ever want!
Tony, an Al Capone hood, first dazzles Vera with his fancy lifestyle to which he introduces her. Their world is filled with unbelievable passion but without commitment and the latter is the only part that leaves Vera feeling somewhat unsure of the future. Still she hangs on as her life has become somewhat easier since Tony treats her well with occasional gifts and even money. All of this changes when she meets a man named Shep Green, who owns a nightclub and is deeply involved with Capone’s rival gang, the North Side Gang. Tony knows Vera is attracted to Shep, but Shep knows nothing of his serious rival. It is Shep to whom Vera pivots because he actually shows that he really cares about her, a novelty for this love-starved gal who is so dazzled with the luxurious lifestyle around her new friends. Questions arise, though, that are extremely disquieting at times but which Vera shoves away in denial, literally questions of life and death!
Hints are dropped by Shep’s friends that seem to indicate shady business deals and rivalries that wind up in “hits.” These increase in frequency throughout the novel as vengeance and fury rule the day with the grief of losing each member. Vera is lost in her new home and eventually a gorgeous baby girl after a very quick wedding to Shep, but her denial phase is about to end with a bang when more murders occur and Shep seems slated to go to jail. Her fortunes, it seems, are as fickle as fate since they rely on something that is totally falling apart at the seams.
There is enough partying, gaiety, intimate sharings with guys and gals, dancing, drinking, shopping for the latest flapper styles and hairdos, tension, unexplained dangers, and so much more that keep the reader riveted to every page and flipping them rapidly to find out more. It’s an attractive and glamorous lifestyle these characters lived, a post-WWI revel that couldn’t possibly last but which was relished by participants and observers (readers as well) while it reigned supreme in the streets of major cities around America in the 1920’s. The end is stunning and can be visualized as a fierce and heart-rending mobster movie scene! Renee Rosen has captured not only the essence of it all but the fierce passion in which mobsters and their gals moved with elegance and gusto! This is a terrific read about a volatile and exciting time and is highly recommended to all!