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Uncaged Review – From Ice Wagon to Clubhouse by Viola Russell

From Ice Wagon to Clubhouse
Viola Russell
Historical Romance/Irish

At fifteen years old, Jude Mooney is driving an ice wagon to help his struggling Irish immigrant family. An obedient son and devoted brother, he willingly works in the sweltering New Orleans heat along with his friend, Pete Saluto, to help his pious and respectable parents. When his older brother’s suicide leaves the family nearly destitute and shame-ridden, Jude seeks employment in the infamous Storyville of old New Orleans, becoming the confidante of the many characters who populated Emma Johnson’s establishment. 

When his parents learn of his activities, Jude leaves the family nest, becoming even more embroiled in the seedy lifestyle until a disastrous encounter forces him to leave town and join his relatives in Ireland. It is in his ancestral birthplace that he meets the fiery Maeve and joins the fight for Irish independence and then, paradoxically, the British army when his love turns sour. Upon his return from the front, he seeks Maeve, who has had his twin sons. 

Together, they return to New Orleans. A series of losses then force Jude into an uneasy alliance with the powerful mob family, the Matrangas. He rises in the ranks of the Matranga “family,” becoming a valuable cog in the wheel of their bootlegging and horse-racing empire. However, any links to the mob brings risks. How much more will Jude lose as the Feds pursue the men who supply the country with the illicit nectar? 

Uncaged Review: This book starts in 1914 and ends in 1932 covering the life of Jude Mooney from age 15 to age 33. It follows him from WWI through Prohibition. It starts with him and his best friend, Pete, working on a horse drawn ice cart delivering ice to earn money through the time when they have enough money to open their own restaurant and club when prohibition ends.
During the book, Jude goes from living in poverty when his father is injured on the job and can barely work to where he owns race horses and frequents the clubhouse at the racetrack. He and Pete remain friends throughout the book. Their lives intertwine at the beginning, separate and come back together toward the end of WWI.
It wasn’t until Jude’s brother James commits suicide to keep from being sent to jail for embezzling money from the bank where he was working. It sends Jude on a path where he attempts to help his family by working in the famed Storyville, the red-light district of New Orleans in the early 1900s. When his father finds out about Jude and Pete working for a brothel, Jude ends up arguing with his father and leaves, believing it was best for him and his father.
He fancies himself in love with Maureen, a redhaired prostitute at the house where he is working. When he is discovered by her daughter in bed, he re-evaluates his life there and decides he needs to leave the area and goes to Ireland, not intending to meet up with his family who are still there but after being caught by his friend sleeping with the sister, he leaves and joins his uncle.
When he kills the owner to the bar where he was working, he joins the English army and fights in WWI. When he returns to Ireland after being wounded, he marries Maeve, the sister of his friend. They become involved in the Irish rebellion and end up having to leave with their two sons to return to America.
Things don’t get a whole lot better upon their return. Jude’s sister had a child out of wedlock, Pete loses an arm in the war and jobs are scarce. When Prohibition starts, Jude, out of desperation, ends up working for the local Mafia boss training horses and running a bootleg operation and speakeasy. It enables him to move to the clubhouse in the end, but along the way, his wife dies and his boys have to leave the country for killing an informant. Jude ends up marrying Nieve, the child of the prostitute he had been with in Storyville.
As you can see, at lost happens and this is just glossing over much of the story. The book was well written with characters you can see and relate to, be it good or bad. There are times you can feel the pain he was feeling due to circumstances out of his control.
My problem was the ending. I get to the last page and mentally said, “Hold on. There’s go to be more!” It leaves you wanting to know if Jude and Nieve end up staying together and if the baby is really his. Do the twins come home? Does Jude go the straight and narrow as he planned at the end of Prohibition or does he continue to work for the Mafia for the money to keep his wife happy? Does his wife settle down and become a well to do society dame or does she do things for excitement and get herself and Jude in trouble? Does Jude end his life financially secure or does his past come back to haunt him and he loses it all? I feel like there should be another book with the second part of his life. If there is, I’d definitely read it. Reviewed by Barbara

4 Stars


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