I received a copy of Rusted Rails from Barry Jones for my honest review. I found a few errors in the editing; also, it seemed a bit out of place to see the word “abortion” written on the back cover in comic sans. Otherwise, I am delighted to say that the book is a wonderful historical suspense novel.
The story takes place in a declining coal-mining town called Wilder, Tennessee, in 1928. A reporter from the Nashville Tennessean arrives in Wilder to investigate mining industry labor conditions and finds that the life span of the average miner is far less than the already less than ideal life span of this day and age, with miners coming down with all manner of maladies, from bronchitis to pneumonia. As Hawkins, the reporter, continues to research the town, interviewing coal bosses, miners, and other various Wilder inhabitants, he uncovers the story of a missing mother of four and finds that the town is a hotbed for illegal abortions with a thriving abortion ring run by the mob at the center. Inevitably, the story takes a turn that involves J. Edgar Hoover’s newly formed FBI and Al Capone, and leaves you wondering if justice will prevail.
Jones offers a well-researched window into the history of illegal abortions in America at a time before Roe v. Wade when backroom abortions often had terrible consequences and the desperation and lack of opportunity for women in the 1920s trying to make their way. Unfortunate back cover font choice aside, this troubling subject matter is handled with sensitivity and respect by the author as he details the plight of one particular family – the widow of a deceased miner with four children and one on the way, desperately hoping to find a way to make a better life after the untimely death of her husband.
The book also offers a Sinclairesque glimpse into 1920s mining conditions and the utterly destructive impact the mining lifestyle, without safety rules, labor laws, or unions, had on miners and their families. Jones connects the action of the story and the players involved to actual historical people and places, offering a richer picture of this period of time and what life would have been like in a mining town not far from mob-run Chicago. Especially interesting was the epilogue, detailing what became of the town of Wilder and its mines after 1928.
Author Barry Jones is a retired scientist turned storyteller. A member of Tennessee’s Explorastory club, the author shares his stories at speaking engagements and book readings within his community. Jones was named Industrial Scientist of the Year in 1998 by the Tennessee Academy of Science, holds a United States Soccer Federation “A” license, and in 2003, was inducted into the Tennessee State Soccer Hall of Fame for professional coaching at the adult and youth levels. Avid travelers and wildlife photographers, Jones and his wife live in Hendersonville, Tennessee; they have two grown sons. Rusted Rails is Jones’s second novel.