The Call House

Inside the Book

Title: THE CALL HOUSE: A WASHINGTON NOVEL
Author: C.P. Stiles
Publisher: Bacon Press Books
Pages: 204
Genre: Literary Fiction
A war on vice In Washington, DC—a city constantly awash in scandals? Hard to believe, but it really happened.  Only not exactly the way it’s told here.

All Mattie Simon knows is that she want adventure and her hometown doesn’t have any. She wants independence, maybe some romance.

All Andrew Stevens wants is to do his job as a newly-elected congressman.

But Washington has a way of changing peopleeven when they get what they want.

Fast-paced and funny, The Call House takes you back to a time of relative innocence, when people flocked to Washington, DC, in the 1940s to do good works and instead got caught up in sex, money, and politics. What else would you expect?

My Review

This book is based on actual events that took place in 1940's. The author did a very nice job of giving me a visual image of the setting as well as all of the characters.

Speaking of the characters, they were enjoyable. I liked all of the women, who worked for Flo. Flo really did care for all of the women and treated them with kindness. I liked that Mattie still kept some of her innocence through the whole ordeal. None of the other women were catty towards Mattie, so this in turn made them likable.

Then there is Tom Callan. He was on a mission to bring down establishments like Flo's. I give him props for his dedication, even if it got him in hot water. While, I did enjoy this book, I do feel like I never really got to know the characters that well. Like the only top two layers were revealed with not a lot of details provided to kept the story moving. This is light reading.

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Book Excerpt:

THE war changed everything. But that was later.

This was February 1941, and Washington had yet to become the city it was meant to be. Nation’s capital? World capital? If you’d visited Paris or London, if you’d been to Boston or New York, then you knew Washington was still a small Southern town. Provincial and unsophisticated.

But if you were elected to Congress from Muskegon, Michigan, or Carbondale, Illinois, if you came looking for work from Greensboro, North Carolina, or Smyrna, Tennessee—Washington was the biggest goddamn city in the world. A Mecca for men of ambition. A refuge for women who refused to marry. And the closest thing to the Promised Land for anyone out of a job.

Ambitious and earnest, unmarried and adventurous, people poured in on trains and buses, crowding each other out of rooms in rundown boarding houses and bumping up against one another at night in the smoky bars on Capitol Hill or down on F Street where Negroes weren’t allowed to take a seat unless they could play the piano.

It was February 1941—boys were men, women were girls, and everyone was more innocent than they’d ever be again.

But Mattie Simon didn’t know any of that when she stepped off the train in Union Station, wearing a navy poplin shirtwaist dress with a white collar and matching navy-blue pumps. She carried a smooth cardboard suitcase tied together with rough twine.

All Mattie knew was she wanted adventure and her hometown didn’t have any. She’d been bored with Smyrna as far back as third grade.

She had forty-seven dollars in a white handkerchief pinned inside her slip, and the addresses and phone numbers for the Red Cross and the YWCA tucked inside her purse. But somewhere on the train ride up she lost her nerve. In town ten minutes and already she was homesick. It wasn’t at all what she imagined.

The vast marble and granite station was cold and crowded with men in heavy overcoats and broad-brimmed hats, women in dark tight-fitting suits and high-heels, sailors and soldiers and cops all in uniforms of their own. Mattie shielded her eyes against the late afternoon sun and tried to get her bearings, but the crowd pushed her along toward the exit. She felt her right ankle turn funny. She lost her balance.

Before she fell flat on her face, a sailor grabbed her by the arm.

“Good thing I was here to save you, sweet stuff.” He was short and red-faced, with mean little eyes.

“Thank you.” She smelled liquor and peppermint, cheap cologne, and hair pomade.

“You really want to thank me, baby doll, you can let me buy you a drink.”

“Wish I could,” she said, “But I’m . . .”

“Scared?”

Well, it turned out she was.

“Just not interested. I’ve got a fella back home.” And wouldn’t her momma have been happy if it had been true.

“And I’ve got a girl in sixteen ports. But right now, baby doll, all we’ve got is each other.” He tightened his grip on Mattie’s arm. She tried to pull away.

“Maybe you didn’t understand me. I just want to show you a good time.”

In the back seat of the sleek black sedan circling Union Station, Flo Maxwell leaned forward. She tapped her driver on the shoulder.

“Sam, did you see that? A tall young woman in a blue coat. Looks like she could use some help. Circle again.”

“Will do,” Sam said. “But there’s a cop on the corner hoping for trouble. Be careful.”

The sailor pressed his body against Mattie’s as they waited for a break in the traffic. She wriggled away.

“Easy now, you don’t want to make a fuss. I’m just going to take you across the street to meet my buddies. Bet you never heard of a joyride where you came from.”

The sleek black sedan stopped right in front of them. Air horns blared as Flo stepped out of the car. She wore a fur coat dark as the waters of the Potomac River. Her hair was the color of coal, her lipstick so red it made her teeth sparkle impossibly white. She walked right up to Mattie.

“There you are, darling. I’ve been looking all over for you,” she said loud enough for the cop to hear. She towered over the sailor.

“What the—”

She pushed him aside and gave Mattie a hug.

“Why I was worried half to death I’d missed you, and here you were all along.”

“Here I am.” Mattie was still shaking.

“Look at you, you’re shivering. I could have sworn I told your momma to make sure you packed a heavy coat. Never mind. Let’s get you home.” She put her arm around Mattie and steered her toward the car.

“Hey, what about me?” the sailor called after them. “Don’t I get some kind of reward? I’m the one who found her.”

“Keep walking,” Flo said.

Sam held open the door to the sedan. He took Mattie’s cardboard suitcase, handling it as carefully as if it were real leather, and put it on the front seat. He waited until Mattie settled herself in back, then closed the door.

“Thank you,” Mattie said. “I swear I think you saved my life.”

“Hush, honey. No one’s going to hurt you while I’m around. New to town?”

Mattie straightened her collar, smoothed her skirt. “Does it show that much?”

Flo sat back and took stock. The clothes were dreadful, but she’d seen worse. Slim ankles, shapely legs, a trim waist. Could anyone tell what was hidden beneath her boxy poplin dress? A long graceful neck. A nearly perfectly heart-shaped face. And wasn’t there just a hint of mischief behind those wide hazel eyes? A touch of naughty mixed in with all that nice?

“If I had to bet money,” Flo said, “I’d bet you’ll look like you’ve lived here your whole life in no time.”

Mattie smiled—that was just what she wanted to hear.

“Sam, I’m guessing this young lady is headed over to the YWCA. Let’s swing past there and drop her off.”

“Sure thing.” Sam caught Flo’s eye in the mirror. “Hope she’s got a reservation. You know they’ve been turning people away these past few months.”

“Reservation? I didn’t know I needed one.” Mattie fumbled in her purse for the slip of paper. “All I’ve got is their address and phone number.”

“Tell you what.” Flo removed one of her long black leather gloves and patted Mattie’s hand. “Why don’t you come on home with me tonight? I’ve got an extra room.”

“I hate to trouble you.”

“No trouble at all.”

Flo studied her again. Mattie had one of those smiles that lit up her face with a lifetime of secret hopes.

“Just sit back and relax,” Flo said. “Everything will be fine now.”



____________

Meet the Author

C.P. Stiles
C.P. Stiles lives and writes in Washington, DC. The Call House: A Washington Novel is her first published novel, but she has a drawerful of new novels just waiting to be published.

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Comments

Caroline Stiles said…
Thanks for the thoughtful review.

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