Sunday Book Review – Ida: Searching for the Jazz Baby #freeversepoetry

Welcome to my Sunday Book Review. Today I’m reviewing Frank Prem’s new release – Ida: Searching for the Jazz Baby. In this story of historical fiction written in free verse poetry, Frank touches on the life of Ida Pender, aka Jazz Baby, and her wild lifestyle in the 1920s. Complete with newspaper clippings and stories to accompany.



Who is Ida Pender? Is she the elderly woman – Ida-Spider – rumoured to be resident in a 1970’s Mental Asylum?

Is she Squizzy Taylor’s teenaged gangster moll of the roaring 1920’s in Melbourne? The woman the police declared had shapely legs? She is Ida. The Jazz Baby.

Frank Prem explores the story of Ida Pender, largely forgotten now, but once the notorious associate of a 1920s Melbourne gnagster. From the young girl sneaking out of her bedroom window to go dancing at the Palais de Danse, companion, accomplice, then wife and mother to Squizzy Taylor’s child by her early twenties, Ida is an extraordinary woman and a marvellous story.

My 5 Star Review:

A freeverse poetry collection about a jazz dancer and true crime in 1920s Melbourne, Australia where Jazz baby, Ida, daughter of a horse trainer, falls in love with Melbourne’s notorious underworld criminal, Leslie ‘Squizzy’ Taylor, once a horse jockey. The story begins in the 1970s where the author, Prem, as a young student, was a pyschiatric nurse at the Lunatic Asylum where several elderly women were called Ida. ‘Rumor’ had it that one of these Idas was Ida Pender, the gun-moll of Squizzy Taylor.

Prem researched the story of Ida Pender and Squizzy Taylor, who was eventually killed in a shootout, leaving Ida a widowed, single mother at the tender age of 23. Ida loved to dance since a child and was discovered to be part of a competitive dance group who loved to dance to jazz at the Palis de Dance. Prem brings back to life the story of Jazz Baby in prose and poetry. With each newspaper clipping headline, Prem tells the story in poetry through the character’s minds. An introductory poem to the elusive Ida:

the company (she keeps)

The pair are “Squizzy” TayJor, and his paramour, Ida
Pender, who has been associated with him since she
was a mere child of sixteen
“Squizzy” Taylor——As He Is! The Mirror, Perth 05/07/1924
is she
a bad girl
does she just choose
poor company . . .
a man
might be a
but still be nice
to me
if I love him . . .
I do love him . . .
where else
should I be
is she a bad
bad girl
or is she
just . . .
just . . .
just keeping company
as best
she can

If you enjoy a ‘different’ kind of story-telling, you will enjoy this well-researched story combined with the author’s imagination, written in poetry, accompanied by headlines. All the author’s research resources are listed in the book.


71 thoughts on “Sunday Book Review – Ida: Searching for the Jazz Baby #freeversepoetry

    1. Hi Liz. Thank you. It was quite a life she led, in only 6 years or so. I think it’s a bit of a shame that Squizzy’s notoriety has overshadowed her. I wonder how many more stories like it there might be waiting to be found.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Reblogged this on Frank Prem Poetry and commented:
    Thank you D.G Kaye (Debby) for a wonderful review of ‘Ida: Searching for The Jazz Baby’.

    She was a character who set fire to my imagination and I’m so glad Debby enjoyed her story, as well.

    I encourage readers to pop over to read the review and check some of Debby’s writing and other activities, as she is an excellent writer and blogger in her own right.


  2. This is such an imaginative and out-of-the-box way to write in a number of genres: history, poetry, true crime, fiction. It must have been fascinating to research and create. Thanks for letting us know about it, Debby. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Amy, thank you.

      Genre is such a difficult thing for me. Poetry core, but anything interesting to follow. Researching was delightful. Sadly my main resource (our National Library’s Trove collection) is under funding threat. Who knows if anything more will be available for a next collection?

      Reminds of how important it is to catch things while they are right in front of me.


  3. Debby, a wonderful review of a most unusual book! What an ambitious idea to write a fiction novel in freeverse but from your extract here Frank seems to have nailed it! 😀It is fascinating how Frank researched this book on a person he met in real life and I love the idea of integrating newspaper headlines. Congratulations to Frank on his latest release! btw. I love the cover!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Annika. I’m glad you got so much from my review. I would call this tale more ‘speculative nonfiction’. It was certainly an interesting read. I hope you get a chance to read it. Hugs ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Debbie – this sounds fascinating – I’d never heard of Squizzy Taylor – what a story with Ida as his wife … I’m not sure I’ll get to read it – but you’ve whetted my appetite … so much to read! An easier year ahead for you … with thoughts for 2023 and Cheers Hilary


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