Bindle Punk Bruja by Desideria Mesa

This was an impulse buy so I had no idea what I was getting into: a gangster and liquor-running Kansas City complete with flappers, Latinx immigrants embued with earth magic, gangsters of all levels, and the Ku Klux Klan.

Rosa (or Luna) has passed as white her entire life despite inheriting earth magic from her grandmother, and is both a columnist for the newspaper and the owner of a bootlegger club in a seedy part of town.

She has to hide her sibling relationship to her bartender brother because he’s too brown, she has to be careful with who she kisses (earth magic issues) and she’s fighting off local gangsters who want a cut of her club.

Then her house band hires a new piano player, Gio, just as her rich white friend Heck Kessler engages her to act as his fiancee to fool his family’s trustees into believing he’s given up his gay lifestyle.

Lots of things going on, but things get worse, and more gangsters get involved when Gio’s connections to high quality hooch mean Rose has a chance at a better, bigger, richer club.

The frustration for me with this book is that the set up is soooooooo interesting. I loved the descriptions of shows at Rose’s clubs, loved the disparity of the boxcar where Rose’s family lived so full of magic, food, and love, intriqued by Heck and the way he had to live, intriqued by Gio and how Rose could reconcile her feelings for him in the context of the social expectations of the time and her desire to be her own boss, and the inner conflict Rose felt presenting as white when her family had to bear the slurs (and Ku Klux Klan attention) of being immigrants.

All that was a flavorful salad of feelings, themes, and characters, and at times I felt the author was trying to clutch the whole salad with her bare hands and stray pieces kept escaping from between her writing fingers.

And because of Mesa’s slightly dream-consciousness way of writing at times, and habit of referring to main characters by descriptions rather than names (“an uncultured voice with just the right amount of grit spoke from behind” at nearly the end of the book instead of “Gio spoke from behind”) it meant my brain had to fill in the blanks every few pages trying to catch up instead of just being immersed in the salad.

So very interesting, but slightly frustrating at times. I would still read something else by this author, just to see if the writing got tighter, solely on the basis of the richness of the characters.