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Former Brandon Mayor Pens Book Series

Brandon Sun Feb 2, 2019

Sherilyn Decter Hirst has traded in the icy, windswept fields of Westman for the secret speakeasies of Prohibition-era Philadelphia.

The former mayor has authored a new book series set in 1920s Philadelphia. “The Bootleggers’ Chronicles” follow the story of Maggie Barnes, a fictional character, as she navigates the very real streets of the city in her search for answers in a murder.

“There’s something about the roaring ’20s,” Hirst said. “I was sitting in a jazz bar thinking about the music and flappers and the gangsters and bootleggers, and like all good readers, I felt that I wanted to try and write a book.”

Hirst said she was first grabbed by the time period, when thinking about the environment the prohibition created, where ordinary people became criminals for having a drink. That spiralled into gangsters becoming major figures who corrupted politicians and police, a great setup for a novel.

She was drawn to writing about Philadelphia because far less has been written about the city during Prohibition that other American cities, like New York. Al Capone’s story is already well-known, but very few people know the story of Mickey Duffy, the villain in Hirst’s first book, “Innocence Lost.”

The series took a lot of research and consulting with locals in Philadelphia, Hirst said. She relied on the advice of local book clubs to get the look and feel of neighbourhoods right and local experts to flesh out the real people featured as characters in the book.

“I wanted to make this book very authentic,” she said. “I had to follow closely the structure of (Duffy’s) life, and so it took lots of digging in archives and things like that to get the information that I needed to flesh out the five books.”

While the main character was not a real person, Hirst said she wanted to make the depiction of the heroine as close to reality as possible. Barnes, a “widow of her time” gets involved with looking for her friend’s murdered son. The police aren’t interested in investigating, which gets the plot rolling.

“She’s been raised not to be thinking about a career, to be expectant that she would have a husband that would look after her, and suddenly she’s now at the crossroads — what is she going to do?”

Hirst said she consulted photos and 100-year-old documents to set the scene properly in her books. She said she relied on hospital photos for one chapter to get the layout of a period hospital correct and what the doctors and nurses would really have been wearing.

While the time period is nearly a century old, Hirst said it is so appealing because it is on the edge of living memory. Many families still have stories they tell about relatives from the 1920s or just after.

“Whether it’s a great-uncle who was bootlegging booze across the American border or wedding pictures of grandparents that are all done up in their flapper outfits, that bit of history is still living.

Hirst said her experience as mayor of Brandon showed her that people’s concerns in the modern day are not that different from people living in the early 20th century.

“You’re wanting to make sure that you can be successful, that you’ve got safe neighbourhoods, so currently a lot of those issues that are important to people in Brandon were also important to people in Philadelphia.”

“Innocence Lost” will be released on Amazon Feb. 3. The other five novels in the series are releasing monthly over the next five months. Hirst’s pen name for the novels is Sherilyn Decter.