‘The Mayor of Maxwell Street’ by Avery Cunningham Book Review

5 minute read

The Mayor of Maxwell Street by Avery Cunningham: A Captivating Journey of Romance Through Prohibition-Era Chicago

In 1921, during the Prohibition era in Chicago, a wealthy Black debutante and a modest speakeasy manager work together to uncover the leader of an underground crime syndicate. Before long, the two get caught up in the dangers of the time. Together, they enter a perilous world where America is filled with both vice and virtue, with Chicago at the center of it all.

Twenty-year-old Nelly Sawyer is the daughter of the reputed “wealthiest Negro in America.” Her father, a prominent Kentucky horse breeder, has elevated their family to the pinnacle of exclusive Black society, but everything changes when her brother, the heir to her family’s fortune, dies unexpectedly. Overnight, Nelly transforms from relative obscurity into a prominent debutante, but Nelly aspires to more than societal influence and marriage.

She’s been secretly working as an investigative journalist for the Chicago Defender for the past year, shedding light on the achievements and challenges faced by everyday Black Americans living under the shadow of Jim Crow. Her latest assignment thrusts her into the perilous world of a powerful figure known as the “Mayor of Maxwell Street.”

Jay Shorey, with his captivating presence, grapples with the delicate balance between his ties to Chicago’s criminal underbelly and his deep yearning for the refinement and security of high society. Born to a biracial couple in rural Alabama who tragically met their end. Jay carries firsthand experience of the hardships of being denied access to the American dream.

A twist of destiny granted Jay a rare opportunity for escape, which he seized without hesitation. He found himself on the illustrious shores of Chicago, never once glancing back until now.

When Nelly and Jay’s journeys intersect, they work together to uncover the Mayor’s dark secrets and, in the process, ignite a passionate love that’s worth the struggle. But in America, everything comes at a cost, and Nelly must decide how much she’s willing to gamble for a young man who’s prepared to stake it all.

Review of The Mayor of Maxwell Street: A Tale of Love, Courage, and Social Change

The Mayor of Maxwell Street by Avery Cunningham left a lasting impression on me. The story revolves around two complex and compelling characters, Nelly Sawyer and Jay Shorey, whose paths cross in a city brimming with danger, secrets, and societal tensions.

Nelly, a wealthy Black debutante with a strong desire for more than just societal influence, is a character who truly shines. Her determination to make a difference is inspiring. As she works to shed light on the challenges faced by Black individuals living under the shadow of Jim Crow.

Jay Shorey, with his mysterious allure, adds intrigue to the narrative. His journey from a troubled past in rural Alabama to the heart of Chicago’s underworld gives his character depth. His desperate desire for a better life and the risks he takes to achieve it make him a character you can’t help but empathize with.

Cunningham does an amazing job of exploring the complexities of race, class, and the clash between vice and virtue in 1921 America. She paints a rich and immersive picture of Chicago, making you feel like you’re right there in the bustling streets of the roaring twenties.

The romance between Nelly and Jay adds an emotional depth to the story, but it’s not without its challenges. The price they have to pay for their love is a central theme of the book. It left me pondering the sacrifices I’d be willing to make for love.

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What Other People Are Saying About The Mayor of Maxwell Street

“What a well-written debut novel! I’m excited for more novels from Avery Cunningham. 5 stars, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole storyline.” – Desiree G.

“Independent and fearless against all odds, a richly detailed setting. In Prohibition-era Chicago and jaw-dropping twists and turns all make ‘The Mayor of Maxwell Street’ unforgettable.” – Lauravm

“A debut novel everyone will be talking about, The Mayor of Maxwell Street is outstanding. Filled with intrigue, suspense, and a cast of characters I both adored and wanted to strangle. This novel kept me flipping the pages and holding my breath! ” – Victoria Christopher Murray, New York Times bestselling author of The Personal Librarian.

“This debut author is a talent to watch.” – Rae Harding

About the Author – Avery Cunningham

Avery Cunningham resides in Memphis, Tennessee. She also  earned her Master of Arts in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University in 2016. With more than ten years of editorial experience, she has worked with numerous literary magazines, small presses, and best-selling authors.

When she’s not immersed in her writing, Avery enjoys adventures with her Bernese Mountain Dog, Grizzly. And delving deep into research for her upcoming works. “The Mayor of Maxwell Street” is her first novel.


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Tanya Marion