Book Review: Broadway Butterfly by Sara Divello

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 432 pages

Published: August 1, 2023

Publisher: Thomas and Mercer

Genre: Historical Fiction,Mystery & Thriller, Suspense, True Crime


Manhattan, 1923. Scandalous flapper Dot King is found dead in her Midtown apartment, a bottle of chloroform beside her and a fortune in jewels missing. Dot’s headline-making murder grips the city. It also draws a clutch of lovers, parasites, and justice seekers into one of the city’s most mesmerizing mysteries.

Among them: Daily News crime reporter Julia Harpman, chasing the story while navigating a male-dominated industry; righteous NYPD detective John D. Coughlin, struggling against city corruption; and Ella Bradford, the victim’s Harlem maid, closest confidante, and keeper of secrets. Adding fuel to the already volatile crime: a politically connected Philadelphia socialite, an Atlantic City bootlegger, Dot’s dicey gigolo lover, a sultry Broadway dancer, and a cagey sugar daddy guarding secrets of his own.

From Broadway’s glittering lights to its sordid underbelly to the machinations of the country’s most powerful men, Julia embarks on a quest for justice. What she discovers, twist after breathtaking twist, might be even more nefarious than murder.

New York City in the Roaring 20s, dancing, prohibition and the crime of the century?! Join Sara Divello as she retells one of the most notorious unsolved murders of our era, where power, money and politics scheme to keep the truth from being revealed.

Broadway Butterfly is a thriller that is immersed in accurate historical detail and descriptive storytelling. When I talked with Divello in a recent interview, she mentioned that she spent a little over six years writing and researching this story and through the descriptive storytelling, you can tell how much heart and work she put into the story. As you read, you forget it is based on an actual crime. Divello did a fantastic job making each historical figure jump off the page. You feel Julia Harpman’s curiosity and want to join her investigation. You think John D. Coughlin’s frustration at the interference and corruption in his police investigation—a Philadelphia socialite’s pain at being dragged into a scandal that affects her family personally and politically. And you feel Ella’s fear of trying not to draw attention to herself but also to get justice for Dot. It is important when reading a story that you think that the characters are right there with you, and Divello, with her intricately plotted storytelling, did just that.

As for the setting, I felt like I was in the 1920s. I know little about that era, only from textbooks and documentaries. But after reading Broadway Butterfly, not only did I learn so much about the New York 1920s, but reading this made me want to read more about the subject. While reading, I was transported to the roaring 20s and could forget about the 21st century for a moment or two. However, it wasn’t that quick to forget. You find history has a quirky way of repeating itself when you see that this murder investigation, ripe with secrecy and corruption, is not too far off what we currently have to deal with in our society. This book came out at the right time and made it more relevant and poignant as you read.

This book’s only flaw is that it is a bit long. If readers want a quick read, this may not be for you. However, I believe you will miss out if you don’t pick it up. Some chapters/passages could have been edited down. But it doesn’t stop it from being an intense and suspenseful read. Out of all of the characters, Ella was my favorite. I wanted more of her story and loved reading her reactions and understanding the situation. Personality-wise, I could identify more with Ella, even though I secretly wanted to be Julia.

Perfect for readers who love historical mysteries jam-packed with details and accuracy, Broadway Butterfly is a historical mystery that has to be on your list to read before the year concludes. With true crime at the heart of the matter, Divello brings history and suspense to the forefront, which makes this a stunning debut for an emerging author.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Watch Our Conversation With Sara Below!

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Published by karma2015

I was born and raised in New York. I still live in New York but kind of sick of the city and one day I wish to move to the UK.I have a Masters degree in Library Science and I currently work in a special collections library. I loved books ever since I was a little girl. Through the hard times in my life, my love for books has always gotten me through. Just entering another world different from my own intrigues me. As long as I am entering in another universe, I like to create my own as well. I love to write and hopefully I will be able to complete a novel.

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