Lawhon (Eye of the God, 2009) offers a fictional solution to the never-solved disappearance of New York Supreme Court Judge Joseph Crater in 1930, a headline story in its day.
For 38 years, the judge’s widow, Stella, makes annual visits to toast him at Greenwich Village’s Club Abbey, the mobster-owned speak-easy frequented by Joe Crater in 1930. Dying of cancer in 1969, she invites Jude Simon, the detective assigned the Crater case, to join her and tells him what really happened. Cut to 1930: Joe cuts short his visit to Stella at the couple’s Maine cottage to return to NYC alone after receiving a mysterious phone call. The Craters’ maid, Maria, coincidently married to Jude, is cleaning their Fifth Avenue apartment when she walks in on Joe’s mistress, a showgirl everyone calls Ritzi, naked in the conjugal bed. Joe warns Maria to keep her mouth shut before he and Ritzi head out. After having dinner with pal William Klein, Joe and Ritzi end up in a Coney Island hotel. When there’s a knock on the door, Ritzi hides in a cabinet under the bathroom sink while two men savagely beat Joe before taking him away. She and Klein claim they spent the night together to give each other alibis when questioned. Stella returns to NYC briefly and finds a stash of money and documents that Maria knows Jude, of all people, placed in the Craters’ bureau (but he doesn’t know she knows). Stella hides from the grand jury when it convenes. Ritzi, newly pregnant, tries to hide from the mobster who controls her. Maria and Jude hide their secrets from each other. An author’s note at the end explains who was real and who is fictional in the labyrinth of what ifs, but only Ritzi’s story (she was real, but her storyline is imagined) carries any dramatic weight.
There is some cheesy fun to be had here with Prohibition mobsters and politicians, but the plot and prose are pedestrian.