So I was recently mugged by inspiration while touring Smith Tower here in Seattle (thanks for the tickets, Tiff!). For those of you who have no idea what Smith Tower is, it was once the tallest sky scraper west of the Mississippi (when it was build back in the 19-teens) and it has a lovely and eventful history, including housing an assortment of people associated with rumrunning and bootlegging back during prohibition. If you know much about prohibition in the west OR constitutional law, you probably know the name Roy Olmstead. He was a rumrunner up here in Seattle who was known for being anti-violence and being one of the area’s largest employers during that time period as well as being the first person to challenge wire tapping as a legal source of evidence at the supreme court. However, I am much more interested in his wife, Elise aka Elsie Caroline Parché aka Campbell who was a British WWI intelligence officer before marrying Roy. But when one goes to find information about the ladies of the time period, the research is thin on the ground.
As I was flailing around for resources, I ran across a book that is actually coming out next month: Seattle Prohibition: Bootleggers, Rumrunners, and Graft in the Queen City by Brad Holden. I promptly pre-ordered it, but didn’t want to wait a month to read it (oh the urgency of the muse /s) and instead reached out to Brad on his Instagram account where he posts Seattle relics. He happily agreed to send me over a PDF of his book which I promised to review in return for sending me the advance copy, so here we go! He did specify a completely HONEST review of the book, so I guess I’ll start with what I didn’t like.
I wish there was more on Elise, but considering he was covering all of prohibition in a concise and easy to read book, I can’t be too hard on him for that. I could have also wished for more precise dates on some events as I laid out the timeline my work will cover, but again, not sure those are even available. And that’s the end of what I can complain about.
Holden has put together a beautifully researched and written book about the nature of Prohibition and its criminal element with copious photographs to bring the laundry list of names and events to life. His writing is lively and engaging, which I personally have had difficulty finding in non-fiction works. If you look through my list of reviews here, you’ll see I tend to stick heavily to speculative fiction, so actually enjoying a non-fiction book is something of a departure for me. Most of the other works I’ve found about this era are deadly boring and I find myself skimming and just looking for mentions of the names I am concerned with. Not so with H0lden’s work. It’s a masterfully woven tale that explores all the major players and events in Seattle during the 1920’s and early 30’s and how Prohibition entered and exited the scene.
The book has provided me with a wealth of knowledge about the time period my story will be set in, and the events and people that will serve as a backdrop to the play. It was charming, eloquent, and had a rakish sense of humor, much like the people it featured. If you have a passing interest in Seattle, history, Prohibition, gentleman criminals, or a mix of the above, definitely pick this up for your to-read shelf. And this isn’t just me taking sugar from another local author, I whole-heartedly recommend this intriguing book.