The Jolly Lobster, by Robin Anderson-Forbes
A most worthy debut novel
Story blurb: The Jolly Lobster is a very gay adventure featuring rum runners, speakeasies, brothels, and love in Halifax during Prohibition. It’s the summer of 1920 and Ed Stevenson, is lost and flat broke in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Fortunately for Ed, his lover Charles Sinclair, who had served with him during the war, has been searching for him in all the local juice joints, speakeasies and blind pigs. Reunited, the two prepare to embark on the new life together they planned during their time in the trenches. Little did Ed know that in order to earn a living, he’d end up working in a speakeasy; but this was not any old speakeasy, this was The Jolly Lobster. The Jolly Lobster was one of the more popular speakeasies in Halifax, catering to all types and run by two lovable women trying to make ends meet; Dorothy and her large lover, Rose. Dock workers, fishermen, university students, and colourful men and women of the homosexual persuasion all mixed and mingled at The Jolly Lobster, in order to sate their thirst for rum, whiskey, suds, to have a bowl of The Jolly Lobster’s famous lobster chowder and to partake in the many pleasures that awaited them in the rooms upstairs. They also came for the music provided by the beautiful and talented Bobbie Smith, a mean fiddle player who loves to dress in the fashion of the flapper, play bawdy songs on her fiddle and also play with the men upstairs in the brothel. All in all, The Jolly Lobster is a close little family type business; and like all family businesses there’s bound to be a few secrets and intrigues; which there are, and in plentiful supply. And given that they’re in the booze business during Prohibition they find their little operation having to stay one step ahead of the law and a few more steps ahead of the competition. The Jolly Lobster’s chief competitor is a banished crime boss from Montreal, by the name of Pierre Dumont, whose instructions are to take over the booze business in Halifax. Dumont executes his instructions ruthlessly and soon takes over most of the joints in Halifax in short order. The Jolly Lobster and its family are made of tougher stuff though and it takes all of Dumont’s cunning, to bring about their downfall. This he attempts to do with the help of a willing traitor or traitors, a Temperance Inspector with a past connection to Dorothy, Rose and Bobbie; and several murders just to make his point. Things begin to look quite grim for the hard working boys and ladies of The Jolly Lobster; it’s going to take an army to get rid of Dumont and his gang. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of volunteers.
*available in eBook format: 608 KB
About the author: Robin Anderson-Forbes was born and raised on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. After visiting Nova Scotia, he and his husband were so entranced with the province, they moved there along with their cat into a big old house. The Jolly Lobster is Robin’s first novel.
Review by Gerry Burnie
Recently I did a search of fellow Canadian, gay fiction writers, and was pleased to see there were a goodly number of published authors out there. Among them is Robin Anderson-Forbes, whose debut novel “The Jolly Lobster” caught my eye straight away.
One of the longest ‘droughts’ in Canadian history lasted from about 1900 to 1930, when prohibition parched the land. It started as primarily a women’s movement in the 1870s—i.e. the Women’s Christian Temperance Union—and achieved nationwide effect by the 1920s. It wasn’t a total ban, however, for booze could be sold through the government for, “industrial, scientific, mechanical, artistic and medical uses,” and needless to say there was a rather high incidence of sickness during this period—particularly around Christmas time.
It also spawned some lucrative business opportunities for enterprising entrepreneurs who turned their homes, basements, garages, etc. into “speakeasies” (currently known as “after-hours clubs,” or “booze cans” … so I’m told!) And this brings us around to one such speakeasy, “The Jolly Lobster.”
I’ve always had a soft spot for East Coast stories. They have a warm, folksy feel about them, reflecting a down-to-earth culture that still exists in some of the outports today, and which Anderson-Forbes has captured delightfully well in Rose and Dorothy, as well as the twins, Roger and Rupert. In fact all of the ‘good-guy’ characters are likable (to varying degrees), and therefore it is quite easy to invest in them—a connection that is absolutely crucial in a good-guy v. bad-guy story like this.
Although I’m not an authority on this topic, I think the sub-culture of 1920s’ speakeasies is fairly portrayed as well. Certainly there was a remarkable degree of ingenuity that went into circumventing what amounted to an unrealistic, special-interest-sponsored law, and the hardy, self-reliant “Bluenosers” were every bit equal to the task. So I can well imagine that there were quite a few underground establishments like The Jolly Lobster in Halifax in the 1920s.
As for the prostitution, especially male prostitutes, I think may be a bit over the top. On the other hand, I can recall being on a college outing with about 70 fellow-students to Nova Scotia, and we were inadvertently billeted at an out-of-the-way hotel that doubled as a brothel. So anything is possible.
Critically speaking, when I first began reading I thought I had started in the middle of the story. Suddenly there were all these characters—some with connections that went back before the story began—and so it was a bit overwhelming for a while. This settled down by the second chapter, but the opening could have benefited by a more gradual introduction.
Pace-wise the story moves along quite smoothly, but there are inconsistencies—“leaps of faith,” I call them, because the plot twists either arise abruptly, or too conveniently for a seamless delivery.
However, altogether I found it a charming story with likable characters and a gratifying ending. A very worthy debut. Four stars.
Nor All Thy Tears: Journey to Big Sky is now #3 of 63,979 on the Barnes and Noble “Romantic Fiction” (general) list! I am also happy to state the Amazon-Canada has now listed it as “available”; however, at the same time it has neglected in include a product description. Therefore, here it is:
Love, obsession, treachery, murder, and finally solace under the northern lights of Big Prairie Sky Country, SaskatchewanSheldon Cartwright is a young, exceptionally handsome and gifted politician with a beautiful wife and two charming children. His career is also in ascendance, and given all that the sky seems the only limit to this talented, blue-eyed lad. However, Cartwright also has a hidden past that one day bursts onto the front page of a tabloid newspaper with the publication of his nude photograph. Moreover, the inside story alleges that he was once a high-end male prostitute with a romantic connection to an ex-con whose body has been found mutilated beyond recognition in a burned-out apartment—the suspected victim of a blackmail attempt gone wrong. Enter a homophobic cop who is willing to go to any lengths to tie Cartwright into the crime, simply because he is young, handsome and well-educated. With his career in a crisis, and his personal life as well, Cartwright is unexpectedly joined by an ally in Colin Scrubbs, a ruggedly handsome rancher from Saskatchewan. But can they salvage Cartwright’s career from the brink?
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