From the slavery era right up to the present day, people trafficking has been an ugly trade, as unscrupulous people have cashed in on the desperation of others. Dorothy B. Hughes' The Blackbirder was published in 1943, but in some respects it has a timeless quality - a 'blackbirder' in this context is a trafficker. The story concerns the trafficking of people desperate to escape from the Nazis, and that background pins the book as a fascinating contribution to social history. But it's much more than that.
We see everything from the point of view of a young woman whose name is Julie (in fact, she has several names during the course of the story, as she strives to escape trouble). Her courage and determination are admirable, although sometimes - and this is done by Hughes with great narrative skill - she misinterprets what she sees, and the motives of people she encounters. The touches of naivete make her all the more appealing.
We first encounter Julie in New York. She is on the run - but from what, from whom? She's clearly worried when she encounters a young acquaintance called Maxl, but she spends some time with him before he leaves her outside the door of her apartment. Unfortunately, he is then murdered, and Julie, fearing that she may be a suspect, and will soon be found out by the authorities, goes on the run.
Hughes builds the tension with subtlety as well as dynamism. I found this a gripping read from start to finish. It's an unusual book, and one that demonstrates a combination of storytelling flair with in-depth human insight. A very good read indeed. I've read a few negative reviews of this one on Goodreads, which just shows that even a great writer can't please everyone. Ignore the negativity and give it a go. I don't think you'll be disappointed.