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“What Prompted a Story Set During the Prohibition Era?”

Ann Tatlock

Author of Sweet Mercy

As the saying goes, The forbidden fruit is the sweetest. America definitely saw the truth of that during the 13 years of Prohibition (1920-1933). This was the era when alcohol was banned and the entire country was considered dry.

As soon as the federal government made drinking illegal, everyone started to drink. Well, that may be an exaggeration, but only a slight one. Liquor consumption skyrocketed and everyone got busy turning their bathtubs into gin distilleries. Saloons went underground and became speakeasies, where business was booming every night of the week.

In addition, Prohibition proved fertile ground for a whole new kind of criminal industry. Bootlegging became a lucrative business for gangsters like Al Capone (who has a cameo appearance in Sweet Mercy), George “Bugs” Moran, and Charles “Lucky” Luciano. At the same time, many law enforcement agents made a few extra dollars themselves by taking bribes to look the other way.

The Prohibition Era isn’t something we as a nation talk or write very much about—not the way we do with, say, World War II or the Antebellum South. It seems as though we’ve almost tried to block out that disastrous experiment from our collective memory. And as an attempt to “regulate morality,” it was definitely a disaster.

Instead of making people “good,” the laws of Prohibition only served to expose human nature’s propensity for doing exactly what we’re not supposed to do.

I’ve always found this era intriguing, and so decided to use it as a backdrop for one of my stories. I’ve also wanted for a long time to set a story on Hoppe’s Island, which became Marryat Island in Sweet Mercy.

I grew up hearing about Hoppe’s Island, a recreational spot owned by my great-grandfather Edward Augustus Hoppe in the 1920s and 30s. Situated in the Little Miami River near Foster, Ohio, the island was a popular place for swimming, boating, picnicking, and dancing to the bands that played in the pavilion.

As a child, my father spent many summer days enjoying the island and the nearby lodge, and his memories of the place stayed with him long after the island itself no longer existed. Some of my last conversations with my dad before he died in January were of Hoppe’s Island, as I wanted to portray the place as accurately as I could.

With one possible exception, of course. While I never knew my great-grandfather (he died an untimely death in 1944 when he was caught in the waterwheel of his flour mill—the very mill that formed the millrace that created the island), I can say with a fair degree of certainty that he wasn’t a bootlegger and the lodge was not a liquor transport station.

That idea, though, was just too good to pass up! Since Great-grandfather Hoppe owned the island during the very years of Prohibition, the island and the era fit together nicely.

I hope you’ll join me on Marryat Island and discover how our lives can be changed by something known as Sweet Mercy.

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Sweet Mercy

Stunning coming-of-age drama set during the Great Depression and Prohibition

When Eve Marryat’s father is laid off from the Ford Motor Company in 1931, he is forced to support his family by leaving St. Paul, Minnesota, and moving back to his Ohio roots. Eve’s uncle Cyrus has invited the family to live and work at his Marryat Island Ballroom and Lodge.

Eve can’t wait to leave St. Paul, a notorious haven for gangsters. At seventeen, she considers her family to be “good people,” not lawbreakers like so many in her neighborhood. Thrilled to be moving to a “safe haven,” Eve soon forms an unlikely friendship with a strange young man named Link, blissfully unaware that her uncle’s lodge is anything but what it seems.

When the reality of her situation finally becomes clear, Eve is faced with a dilemma. Does she dare risk everything by exposing the man whose love and generosity is keeping her family from ruin? And when things turn dangerous, can she trust Link in spite of appearances?

Ann Tatlock

Ann Tatlock is the author of the Christy-Award winning novel Promises to Keep. She has also won the Midwest Independent Publishers Association “Book of the Year” in fiction for both All the Way Home and I’ll Watch the Moon. Her novel Things We Once Held Dear received a starred review from Library Journal and Publishers Weekly calls her “one of Christian fiction’s better wordsmiths, and her lovely prose reminds readers why it is a joy to savor her stories.” Ann lives with her husband and daughter in Asheville, North Carolina.

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Excerpt (Chapter 14)

My old life drifted farther and farther away until one Tuesday morning, June 23, the memories came rushing back. The news came over the radio that Al Capone had been arrested. He’d been indicted ten days earlier but was now in custody, along with 68 other members of an alleged beer syndicate. They were charged with 5,000 offenses against the Prohibition law. Five thousand! Capone himself was accused of conspiracy dating all the way back to 1922.

As I stood by the front desk listening to the radio with Uncle Cy, I was surprised at the feelings welling up inside me. Al Capone was a terrible, evil man and he deserved prison for all that he had done, and yet….

Hey, kid, you all right?

His face was vivid in my mind, that fleshy moon with the gray eyes and bushy brows. I bit my lower lip remembering the sting as he touched my tattered knees with a handkerchief.

You gotta be more careful, little lady.

He didn’t have to stop and help me. I was just one more clumsy kid who hit a buckled sidewalk and skinned her knees, a rite of childhood. Other grown-ups might have clicked their tongues and walked on by, but he didn’t. He squatted down and looked at me the way a father looks at his own child and asked me if I was all right. And then he’d wiped away the blood and given me a handkerchief for my tears.

Say, you like elephants?

And he’s given me too a piece of carved ivory that I’d kept in my treasure box for eight years.

“Looks like old Scarface is really in hot water this time,” Uncle Cy said as he turned off the radio. “I guess it’s bound to catch up with you sooner or later.”

Uncle Cy sighed.

So did I.