Cahokia Jazz: A Novel (Hardcover)
On Our Shelves Now
Named a Best Book of the Year by The Guardian and The Financial Times
From “one of the most original minds in contemporary literature” (Nick Hornby) the bestselling and award-winning author of Golden Hill delivers a noirish detective novel set in the 1920s that reimagines how American history would be different if, instead of being decimated, indigenous populations had thrived.
Like his earlier novel Golden Hill, Francis Spufford’s Cahokia Jazz inhabits a different version of America, now through the lens of a subtly altered 1920s—a fully imagined world full of fog, cigarette smoke, dubious motives, danger, dark deeds. And in the main character of Joe Barrow, we have a hero of truly epic proportions, a troubled soul to fall in love with as you are swept along by a propulsive and brilliantly twisty plot.
On a snowy night at the end of winter, Barrow and his partner find a body on the roof of a skyscraper. Down below, streetcar bells ring, factory whistles blow, Americans drink in speakeasies and dance to the tempo of modern times. But this is Cahokia, the ancient indigenous city beside the Mississippi living on as a teeming industrial metropolis, filled with people of every race and creed. Among them, peace holds. Just about. But that corpse on the roof will spark a week of drama in which this altered world will spill its secrets and be brought, against a soundtrack of jazz clarinets and wailing streetcars, either to destruction or rebirth.
About the Author
Francis Spufford began as the author of four highly praised books of nonfiction. His first book, I May Be Some Time, won the Writers’ Guild Award for Best Nonfiction Book of 1996, the Banff Mountain Book Prize, and a Somerset Maugham Award. It was followed by The Child That Books Built, Backroom Boys, and most recently, Unapologetic. But with Red Plenty in 2012 he switched to the novel. Golden Hill won multiple literary prizes on both sides of the Atlantic; Light Perpetual was longlisted for the Booker Prize. In England he is a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Historical Society. He teaches writing at Goldsmiths College, University of London.
“Dazzling . . . an intricate, suspenseful and moving story that rises from the mists of America’s prehistory and morphs into an alternate version of America’s story. . . . [Spufford] keeps his engine running with action and intrigue, romance and suspense, and his sense of place is spellbinding . . . Cahokia Jazz is an audacious work of the imagination by an author powerfully steeped in mythmaking.” —The Los Angeles Times
“Atmospheric . . . Spufford, one of our most powerful writers of wayward historical fiction, sets his book—a hard-boiled crime story—in an America that’s recognizable yet disquietingly not. . . . In the compelling character of Barrow—a mostly decent man trying to make sense of a fallen ‘what if’ world—many of us will recognize our own held-breath bafflement, caught, as we are, on the darkling plain of our own barely believable times.” —Maureen Corrigan, The Washington Post
“A smoky, brooding noir set in the 1920s, but not an entirely recognizable 1920s . . . Cahokia Jazz combines the intricate plot and burly action of an old-fashioned hardboiled detective novel with Spufford’s dreamy, lustrous prose, summoning an irresistible city lost to time and chance.” —Laura Milller, Slate
“Magical . . . a gripping rollercoaster, which fulfills all the demand of the noir form to which it pays homage and, like all the best alt-history, throws a fascinating light onto ‘real’ history." —Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
“Energetic and hugely enjoyable.” —The Guardian, Best Fiction of 2023
“A marvellous deep-layered tale of treachery and trickery.” —Independent
“Arresting . . . a gorgeously rich and multilayered story, packed with gunfire, music and superstition. . . . Cahokia Jazz is enormous fun, and the closest contemporary novel like it is Colson Whitehead’s magnificent The Underground Railroad. . . . Barrow is a terrific action hero.” —The Spectator
“Told in prose as intoxicating as a swig of bathtub gin, this 1920s gumshoe novel takes place in the fictional city of Cahokia where indigenous people are major players in the tenuous peace that rules the city. That is, until a body appears butchered atop a skyscraper, arranged in a way that appears to be a symbolic message. When an outcast detective and his partner are put on the case, wheels start turning in gasp-inducing twists through the very last page.”—Good Housekeeping, Most Anticipated Books of 2024
“A richly entertaining take on the crime story, and a country that might’ve been.”—Kirkus (starred review)
"[A] thrilling leap into alternative history . . . a murder mystery that doesn’t let up . . . Like the city and world it depicts, this is a complicated book that offers many layers of pleasure. . . . Above all, there’s the joy that comes from seeing a profusion of love and care poured into a fully original piece of work." —Financial Times
“Gutsy and atmospheric . . . [a] generous slice of noir.” —Mail on Sunday
“A rich and fluently imagined alternate history . . . vivid and varied . . . Spufford’s skill at keeping you reading, sentence after sentence, is for me up there with writers like David Mitchell.” —Locus Magazine
"Sure to be one of the most distinctly imagined texts of the year, in any genre.” —Crime Reads
"Francis Spufford is a literary sorcerer with one of the great imaginations of our time. When a new book lands, I drop everything and start reading. Cahokia Jazz takes us to an America that wasn't... a wilder, richer, altogether more enchanting America. Bullets and beatings provide the percussion to Spufford's hothouse jazz noir, while hope and heartbreak do a dizzying, drunken foxtrot together. I can't remember the last time suspense and spiritual longing were so tightly braided together in a single novel. A masterpiece.” —Joe Hill
“Stylish and ambitious … [Spufford’s] most crowd-pleasing novel yet.” —The Times
“A taut, unguessable whuddunit, painted in ultrablack noir. . . . It's got gorgeously described jazz music, a richly realized modern indigenous society, and a spectacular romance. . . . amazing . . . a book that fires on every cylinder.” —Cory Doctorow
"The book is itself Cahokia jazz; the play of possibilities beyond the linear progression of the tune we all already know, that goes to wild places and then winds back, beautifully, heartbreakingly, to echo the notes of where it started." —Jo Baker, bestselling author of Longbourn
“Cahokia Jazz is a delight.” —Sunday Telegraph
"Francis Spufford has discovered a new riff on a favorite tune, and in exploring it has created something wholly unique. Cahokia Jazz is extraordinary." —Mick Herron, author of Slow Horses
"A vibrant thriller set in an alternative history . . . ambitious and consequential. Spufford’s prose is energetic and rhythmic, yet his theme—namely racial politics in the US today—couldn’t be weightier.” —New Statesman
“This richly imagined and densely plotted story refreshes the crime genre and acts as a fun house mirror reflection of contemporary attitudes toward race—all set to a thumping jazz age soundtrack. Standing alongside Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series and Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, this is a challenging evocation of an America that never was.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Cahokia Jazz is a novel about finding one’s place in the world. It is haunting, wholly memorable, and will leave you with an ache.” —Times Literary Supplement
“One of the signal achievements of this exceptional novel is the generosity and rigour with which it conjures up Cahokia. Spufford’s creation absolutely feels like a place you could visit, or could have visited, if you happened to be travelling westward across the United States in the year of modernism, 1922. . . . As a piece of narrative entertainment, Cahokia Jazz is more or less unimprovable.” —Irish Times
“Gritty. . . . Spufford has written an astounding homage to noir mysteries. A poignant drama-filled novel that his fans and readers of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian will thoroughly enjoy.” —Library Journal