But Not for Me

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Pub Date 17 Sep 2024 | Archive Date Not set

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1958 San Francisco: Beatniks, Eisenhower, Fillmore District jazz and Major League baseball. As Mayor George Christopher fights an influx of organized crime and redevelopment begins to transform the city, racial and political tensions rise when a Black real estate magnate is murdered.

Kay Schiffner is a practicing lawyer by day, during a time when women were rarely hired as lawyers, and at night, secretly follows her passion for playing jazz at the Blue Moon in San Francisco’s Fillmore District, a neighborhood where good white women weren’t supposed to go.

Leitisha Boone is the Fillmore District’s only Black female club owner, having started her career in her father’s barbecue joint. She’s not about to give up her successful and elegant Blue Moon when threatened by redevelopment and betrayed by men who don’t believe women should run a business, even when threats turn deadly.

When Leitisha is arrested for murder, Kay’s search for the truth leads her from city politics to the mafia, Beatnik poets to union graft. As pressure mounts from her boss, the police force, and organized crime, Kay must make an impossible choice—to save her hard-won job as a lawyer or to risk her own life and livelihood to try and save the friend and her club that gave her music.

But Not for Me is more than a crime story with a murder to solve. Told through the experiences of two women, the story explores the dark side of gentrification in one of America’s most colorful cities.

1958 San Francisco: Beatniks, Eisenhower, Fillmore District jazz and Major League baseball. As Mayor George Christopher fights an influx of organized crime and redevelopment begins to transform the...

Advance Praise

A stellar debut! Expertly plotted and exquisitely paced, But Not for Me is a compelling crime novel, a nuanced character study, and a poignant commentary on 1950s San Francisco. Kay Schiffner and Thursday Zimpel are characters worth rooting for, and the San Francisco setting is as beautifully drawn as a perfect sunset over the Golden Gate Bridge. Highly recommended.
-Sheldon Siegel, New York Times Bestselling Author of the Mike Daley/Rosie Fernandez novels

A stellar debut! Expertly plotted and exquisitely paced, But Not for Me is a compelling crime novel, a nuanced character study, and a poignant commentary on 1950s San Francisco. Kay Schiffner and...

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Featured Reviews

I am astounded that this is a debut novel! It's an era and a location that I only had a vague knowledge of, but after reading this book, I have developed a fascination with the localised social changes of the era and it is certainly a subject for further research

The year is 1958, the place San Francisco. In a time where women were fighting to be recognised in the workplace, let alone to have careers, Kay Schiffner is a Lawyer who has a passion for Jazz and moonlights in the SF Fillmore District, not a place where an unmarried white woman was rarely seen. The owner of the club is our other protagonist, Leitisha Boone, a female business owne r who is also fighting to retain her business against bigotry and bias against independant women in the 50s, amidst the civil rights movement in the US

San Francisco was going through a period of gentrification, where the poorest areas were being taken over and redeveloped by the affluent minority, who have no qualms at all about how they get what they want, even framing someone for murder. The story follows Kay fighting for justince for Leitisha, through the darkest underbelly of politics, wealth and corrupt police, risking her job and her life

This book is absolutely outstanding. As a debut, it is perfection. The plot is elegant and balances well between the two protagonists, the personalities are well defined and the narrative is descriptive and well researched. I really, really enjoyed this gritty yet elegant masterpiece

Thank you to Netgalley, Bronzeville Books, and Allison A Davis for this impressive and immersive ARC. My review is left voluntarily and all opinions are my own

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I keep talking about this book! I love a great mystery, and I really love reading about one of my favorite cities: San Francisco.

One of the most brilliant moves Allison A. Davis makes is to weave the rich history of music, baseball, and poetry into the historical fiction novel. Johnny Mathis, Willie Mays and the San Francisco Giants, and City Lights Booksellers! Brilliant.

Set in the late 50's, the history of the gentrification of Fillmore District was very interesting. Brought to life by characters of the time, this crime story brought forward race relations, women's rights, and the use of power to destroy.

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Thank you to netgalley and the publisher for this arc.

This was a beautiful story set in 1950s San Francisco. Two women facing different struggles in this time.

The plot was very intricate and explored both female protagonists very well. It explored a lot of heavy but important topics like race, and how women are treated.

Stunning debut novel.

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by Allison A. Davis (2024)

Reviewed by Anirood Singh for NetGalley

Scheduled to be published September 17, 2024, by Bronzeville Books, California, U.S.A.
eBook ISBN: 978-1-952427-62-6; pages: 358

“Urban renewal is negro removal.”

Debut author, Allison A. Davis’s, Adult Historical Fiction: Mystery & Thrillers genre novel, “But Not For Me” is bookended by August 1 and August 29, 1958. She covers this four-week period in 358 pages divided into 77 chapters averaging 4.5 pages each. The title derives from that of the song, “But Not For Me”, originally composed in 1930 by brothers George and Ira Gershwin for the musical, “Girl Crazy”. The story is set in the Fillmore District in San Francisco’s Bay area. The tale unfolds through the eyes of Kay Shiffner, a smart white female piano-playing whiskey-drinking lawyer, somewhat unique for that paternalistic and racially divided time. The focus is on the physical yet also metaphorical Blue Moon bar, and specifically the trials and tribulations of its black owner, Leitisha Boone.

The novel’s dedication provides insight into its premise and objective:

“To Leola King, Queen of the Fillmore, and all the men and women who breathed life into the Harlem of the West.”

Fillmore District’s label derives from it emulating New York City’s black jazz musical locale. The story, then, is a slice of life centered on a few characters earning a living in the jazz entertainment and allied industries, but being thwarted by greedy entrepreneurs using racial laws to bulldoze black residents out of a small area. Conspiracies, dirty tricks, and murder provide the drama to an intriguing story. Davis writes in a conversational, easy-to-read style, facilitated by professional editing. The story has a precise timeline, making it easy to follow. The limited number of characters appear true to life and readers can identify with them and their plight. The foundation and framework of the drama in “But Not For Me” is summed up by her bartender, Walter, who remarks, “Urban renewal is negro removal.”

The protagonist, who learned to play the piano before she could run, is a frustrated lawyer in a male dominated profession and society. She finds solace in the Blue Moon where the music and comradery for most blacks is a temporary respite from racial hatred and the struggle for survival.
Starting with the murder of the owner of the property and attempts by the police to close down the establishment, Kay resolves to help Leitisha. An ally is Thursday Zimpel, a white Detective Inspector, unique in a racially repressive community. Through hard work and determination they are able to free Leitisha on a charge of murder, a battle won in a war that rages on.

Being a “non-white” (an official classification by the government of South Africa of persons of color during its race-based segregation policy, 1948-1994) who witnessed mass removals under the label of slum clearance, I was naturally and immediately drawn to “But Not For Me”. Such background enables me to respectfully highlight some perceived but limited shortcomings of the novel, in the belief that my views could be used to improve it.

The conversational but serious, visual, dramatic opening in undertones sets up the story well. This, alongside the guise of “redevelopment” and the devious means to achieve it promises to provide the drama and intrigue necessary for a mystery-thriller genre. However, some disappointment set in as I read further. I could not find the link between the title and the substance of the story. Some of the chapters, all being short, have little substance and do not advance the story nor reveal character. The realistic, intriguing murder scene and introduction to what seems like one honest cop in a city plagued by organized crime is not carried through realistically, given the frequent mention of “LCN”, La Cosa Nostra, the Mafia. With respect, Kay’s character is not well developed and did not evoke empathy from me, unlike Zimpel, who I could readily identify with. Frequent name-dropping, of songs and artistes does not help – “But Not For Me” could have been more enjoyable if known jazz performers were turned into fictionalized characters appearing at venues in the district. The closing of some chapters with a “black limousine’ moving in or out is unconvincing. The unholy alliance established by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (“ABC”), the police, rich real estate developers, and the LCN has not been exploited sufficiently to heighten and sustain the intrigue and suspense in a crime thriller.

A smile followed by King’s familiar greeting, “Oh! How ya doin’, sugar?” at her small Blue Mirror Cocktail Lounge at 935 Fillmore strongly contrasts with the entrapment scene in Chapter 15. This incident actually happened, but has not been acknowledged by the author. I believe that had “But Not For Me” been a fictionalized biopic of Leola King and some jazz artistes, against a backdrop of race-based removals, the story and characters would have been more intriguing and engrossing, while also being realistic. She could have been the vehicle for a fictionalized tale based on her multiple tragic encounters until she left Fillmore and passed on at age 96. This would have been a fitting tribute to a hero. If, for example, the writer was guided by selected scenes from movies with the theme of jazz, such as “Stormy Monday”, “Cotton Club Encore”, and “I Call Him Morgan”, fused with police corruption movies like “Chinatown” and “L.A. Confidential”, I respectfully submit that Davis would have a bestseller. Jazz and its accompaniment, such as lifestyle, culture, fashion, cuisine, and language were successful American exports globally. A visual writing style, such as in a screenplay, could result in a series of crime-thriller novels and possibly also a movie with prequel and sequels a mini television drama series.

Notwithstanding some limited shortcomings, I have no hesitation in awarding “But Not For Me” 5 out of 5 stars, and recommend it to historical fiction, jazz, and mystery-thriller aficionados.

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This book is set over four weeks in 1958,
San Francisco was a time of social change and urban redevelopment. It was a time in history filled with music, civil and racial unrest, political intrigue, and organized crime.

What a debut novel!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and learning about the controversial redevelopment of the Fillmore District of San Francisco.

The book centres around two formidable protagonists who are determined to have the space to work and create a profitable business: Leitisha Boone, the formidable club owner of the Blue Moon in the Fillmore District, and Kay Schiffer, a tenacious lawyer and jazz pianist on the side.

Leitisha Boone, a business owner, is fighting to keep her club open and opposing redevelopment plans to shut down her business and the communities of Fillmore District forcibly. Kay Schiffner, a lawyer, is a woman on her own in the legal profession who releases her tension and frustration playing jazz on the piano in the clubs.

The story centres around a murder investigation, and Kay helps the investigating detective, Thursday Zimpel, uncover the truth and ensure the perpetrator is brought to justice. The investigation uncovers corruption in the police force, the role of organised crime in corporate redevelopment, and the lengths influential people will go to in gentrification.

Davis crafts an absorbing, well-researched historical thriller with relatable characters and a vivid narrative about racial prejudice and corporate greed. The book is full of energy, from the chapter structure to the music, an essential part of the story, and, of course, the story.

I highly recommend this book to those who enjoy historical thrillers.

Thank you, NetGalley and Bronzeville Books, for the opportunity to read this ARC.

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“But Not For Me” is a captivating dive into 1958 San Francisco, blending jazz, politics, and crime against the backdrop of major societal shifts. Mayor George Christopher grapples with organized crime while redevelopment transforms the city, and racial tensions escalate with the murder of a Black real estate magnate. The narrative unfolds through the experiences of Kay Schiffner, a trailblazing lawyer and jazz enthusiast, and Leitisha Boone, the resilient Black female club owner of the Blue Moon in the Fillmore District. In a male-dominated legal profession, Kay finds solace in jazz at the Blue Moon, challenging societal norms. The story explores the dark side of gentrification, shedding light on racial and political struggles during this pivotal time.

Davis crafts a compelling tale with a conversational, easy-to-read style, navigating the complexities of city politics, the mafia, and the Beatnik era. The characters, especially Kay and Leitisha, come to life, providing readers with relatable struggles and triumphs. The precise timeline facilitates a seamless reading experience. The novel delves into the consequences of urban renewal, exposing the harsh realities faced by the characters. The commentary on gentrification and racial issues resonates, offering readers a slice of life centered on those striving to make a living in the jazz scene, hindered by greedy entrepreneurs and racial prejudices. While the narrative succeeds in creating a vivid portrayal of the Fillmore District, some readers may find the link between the title and the story’s substance unclear. Additionally, certain chapters feel lacking in substance and character development, hindering the overall flow of the story. Despite these points, the novel successfully explores the impact of gentrification and racial tensions, shedding light on a dark chapter in American history.

The protagonist, Kay, emerges as a frustrated yet determined individual, grappling with societal expectations and racial prejudices. Her commitment to justice and friendship with Leitisha adds depth to the narrative. The book introduces readers to a unique Detective Inspector, Thursday Zimpel, offering a fresh perspective on racial dynamics within the community. While the novel touches on the complex issues of the time, some readers may feel that Kay’s character could be more developed to evoke greater empathy. The incorporation of jazz elements, though frequent, could have been enhanced by fictionalizing well-known performers, adding an extra layer of enjoyment for jazz enthusiasts. Despite these considerations, “But Not For Me” provides a thought-provoking exploration of historical fiction, jazz, and mystery-thriller genres. The portrayal of societal challenges, coupled with the well-defined characters and engaging narrative, makes it a commendable debut novel. For readers interested in the intersection of history, crime, and jazz, this book offers a compelling journey into a fascinating era.

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An absolute cracker, opening up the realisation of some of the real struggles faced by non-whites in the late 1950s. Thank you NetGalley for the ARC.

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Kay and Leitisha are two strong women who fight adversity in the job they have chosen and when crime and murder comes into play, they are thrust in the middle of all this mayhem and it’s this conundrum that keeps me reading until the end. The author’s writing style made it easy to follow along and the details of the subject matter was evident by the research that was done as I felt myself walking the paths of the two women in their pursuits. When Leitisha is accused of murder, Kay searches for clues and uncovers the underbelly of organized crime and politics. Her dogged determination as well as working alongside the detective lead to the revelation and identity of the killer. Overall, a good read.

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