Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Escape Artist: An Edna Ferber Mystery, by Ed Ifkovic--A Review

Poisoned Pen Press, ISBN 9781590588475, June 2011

It's 1904, and nineteen-year-old Edna Ferber is working as a "girl reporter" for the Appleton Daily Crescent, in the small Wisconsin town of Appleton. She's frustrated by the trivial nature of the stories she gets to report, and indulges her imagination and creativity in making the stories she can report as vivid as possible. While the publisher, aging Civil War veteran Sam Ryan, likes Edna, the new City Room editor, Matthias Boon, does not, and believes that females have no place in the newsroom.

Then Appleton's homegrown international celebrity, Ehrich Weiss, better known as Harry Houdini, comes home for a visit. Through a combination of luck and initiative, Edna scores the interview that Houdini originally didn't intend to give to either local paper. Boon's hostility is ratcheted up even further. Meanwhile, Edna can't escape from the stresses at work by going home, because she's in near-constant constant conflict with her sister Fannie, and her mother Julia is resentful and angry over husband and father Jacob's blindness which has forced Julia to take over running the family store, My Store.

When a beautiful young German-American girl, Frana Lempke, disappears from the high school and is found dead two days later, Edna finds herself drawn into the investigation. She knows the school, she knows Frana and her friends, she knows everyone involved. And of course, she is filled with imagination and curiosity that won't let her let go of it. And the deeper she goes in her investigating, the more the tensions at home and at work increase and threaten to come to a crisis that will force her to make major life decisions--if she doesn't become the next victim.

The characters are all compellingly drawn, not least Edna Ferber herself. Ifkovic set himself a risky task, making his viewpoint character and protagonist a young woman who will herself be the most famous and successful woman novelist of the first half of the 20th century, and he's pulled it off. I believe in Edna, her family, co-workers, and friends, and the little midwestern town they live in. Escape Artist works both as mystery and as historical novel, and is a delight to read.

Highly recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.