A REVIEW OF
Squall in the Gulf: A Novel
By Candace Cox Wheeler
Hardback, 336 pages
Novelist captures thrill, feel of Roaring 1920s on Mississippi Gulf Coast
By Deanne Love Stephens
Special to the Mississippi Clarion Ledger
USA TODAY NETWORK
Sitting on the screened-in porch at the Goose Point Tarpon Club on Cat Island, David Tauzin and James Harlow, two main characters in “Squall in the Gulf”, enjoyed the best of what the Mississippi Gulf Coast had to offer—fishing its waters, relaxing by its shores, attending Mardi Gras celebrations, and enjoying good food.
This exclusive club with only fifty members opened on the island in 1928, but burned in 1931, never to reopen again. Metaphorically, it represented the Roaring 1920s on the Mississippi Coast that Candace Cox Wheeler captures in her latest novel. Through these characters and others’ experiences, readers will step back in time and enjoy all that the Mississippi Coast had to offer during that brief period to those who were privileged to participate in it.
Wheeler captures this life in her newest novel, “Squall in the Gulf”. However, she reveals much more than simply a day-to-day travelogue of what happened on the Coast. Wheeler also weaves intrigue and mystery throughout the novel.
From bootlegging operations in Kiln during Prohibition to murders by the infamous Black Hand organization with its Chicago and New Orleans ties to dancing and gambling on the Isle of Caprice, Wheeler charts the reader’s course throughout the book with historical references and a clear writing style. She adeptly knits true-to-life names, places, and events in her mystery novel.
Her story line is clear. She also closes several character loops from her first book, “Cradle in the Oak” (2021). This latest companion novel, “Squall in the Gulf”, completes several story lines from Wheeler’s first work, so that readers will benefit and enjoy reading them in succession if beginning the pair. Even though the title of her second novel sounds more ominous than her first work’s, Wheeler “quells the waters” and offers an exciting and engaging book.
Candace Cox Wheeler researched many personalities and events associated with the Mississippi Gulf Coast in order to complete “Squall in the Gulf”. The timeframe of its setting is the Roaring Twenties, a time of frivolity and change in American society.
Two of her main characters served in Europe during World War I, and are overcoming some degree of “shell shock,” even as society moved into Jazz and the Gatsby Flapper Girls. Wheeler used one of her main characters, Judith Marino, to highlight the fact that women also experienced adjustment challenges when they returned home after serving in World War I. As Judith says, “I need to know my life matters. I almost lost it once. I should make the most of what’s left.” Throughout the novel, Wheeler devised how these individual characters did make the most of their lives.
Candace Cox Wheeler captures much of the zeitgeistof life in the 1920s through her characters’ challenges and successes, both in their business and personal lives. She also superbly manages the introduction of historical personalities such as Al Capone and Louis Armstrong through their interactions with her main characters. Readers will recognize these celebrities, regardless of whether their historical reputations were positive or negative.
Wheeler develops these interactions in connection to the Mississippi Coast and surrounding region. Al Capone actually had a house in Ocean Springs, and Louis Armstrong played in New Orleans and on riverboat cruises in his early career, as well as in Chicago. Wheeler sprinkles these historical accuracies within her fictional narrative to give her story vibrancy.
Readers will enjoy “Squall in the Gulf” for its sense of place and mysteries, as well as its clean style and narrative.
Deanne Love Stephens is professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi. She’s the author of The Mississippi Gulf Coast Seafood Industry: A People’s History.