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Reviews Wed Sep 20 2006

Feature: Hudson Lake by Laura Mazzuca Toops

Although the summer of 2006 is drawing to a close, it is not too late to travel back in time to a rural Indiana resort and relive the summer of 1926. Hudson Lake is the most recent novel by local author Laura Mazzuca Toops and it captures all the frenzy of the era of speakeasies, jazz music and bootleg gin.

The story centers around the musicians and visitors at the Blue Lantern dance hall on Hudson Lake in LaPorte County, Indiana. There we meet Joy, a free-spirit running from a troubled past. We are told that Joy is "an assumed name and an assumed attitude, because joy wasn't something she always felt, or at least something she hadn't felt in years." But as her past catches up with her, Joy finds it harder and harder to keep up the facade.

Opposite Joy and her "brassy bobbed red hair" and "wide rouged mouth" is Harriet Braun, a straight-laced pre-med student at Indiana University who is spending her summer working at the Hudson Hotel. Harriet is dating Rudy, a fellow Indiana U. student studying architecture and a man Harriet describes as a "typical alpha male." Although Rudy is a steady guy, Harriet's heart will be sorely tested when she meets a certain jazz musician playing at the Blue Lantern.

Bix Beiderbecke is the talented cornet player who unwittingly comes between Joy and Harriet. At the beginning of the story Joy is sleeping with Bix, but she can't admit to herself that she loves him until it's too late. Bix becomes attracted to the intelligent Harriet, but she is torn between her feelings for the charming musician and her loyalty to Rudy. But Bix may not be able to love anyone or anything more than his insatiable need for alcohol.

Add a Chicago gangster working for Al Capone who wants a piece of the bootlegging business in LaPorte County, plus a group of Ku Klux Klan members who want to rid their town of the fast-living denizens of the Blue Lantern, and Hudson Lake will never be the same again.

In Hudson Lake Laura Mazzuca Toops weaves a fictional story from many real historical people and places. Bix Beiderbecke is the primary example. Although the love-triangle between Bix and Joy and Harriet may never have happened, Bix Beiderbecke was a celebrated jazz musician in the 1920s, and the facts revealed about his life in the novel are based on Toops's research.

The end of Hudson Lake feels a bit rushed as Toops ties up the loose ends of her narrative. The story rapidly jumps forward from 1926 to 1929, 1931 and finally up to 1939 as we learn the often tragic fates of the characters. But, by carrying the story to its ultimate conclusion, Toops strengthens the feeling of the whole book — that the seemingly carefree Jazz Age also had a terrible dark side.

Toops has an obvious affection for her subject, which is hard to resist, and a deep knowledge of the time period. She skillfully brings the 1920s to life with the right historical touches without overburdening the reader with too many extraneous facts. That's a difficult balancing act for many historical fiction writers, but Toops pulls it off. Hudson Lake is a fun, sexy Jazz Age story about a summer that changes the lives of everyone at Hudson Lake, and it just might be a great book to help keep you warm on these increasingly chilly days.


Visit the official website of author Laura Mazzuca Toops at to find out more about Hudson Lake, including information about the real-life locations featured in the novel. Hudson Lake is available from the publisher, Twilight Times Books, and local bookstores. Plus, see Twilight Times Books to read an excerpt from Hudson Lake.

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