The author of Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster—The Creators of Superman (2013) returns with the astonishing story of the first female U.S. district attorney.
Ricca, an authority on comics and a SAGES fellow at Case Western Reserve University, crafts an express train of a story that follows the career of the woman born Mary Grace Winterton (1869-1948), who had two failed marriages, during which her surname became first Quackenbos and then Humiston (the name she bears through much of the text). Ricca’s focus is on her most spectacular case, that of young Ruth Cruger, a recent high school graduate who, in February 1917, disappeared after getting her ice skates sharpened at a neighborhood shop in Harlem. In the early sections of the book, the author artfully—even cinematically—shifts our attention, chapter by chapter, among the Cruger case and some of Humiston’s earlier cases, which required staggering amounts of travel and research and even danger for Humiston, who’d earned a law degree but would eventually segue into full-time investigations of the cases that obsessed her. She would also galvanize the newspaper-reading public, making her a celebrity and earning her the name in the book’s title. Many cases involved the disappearance and/or abuse of girls and women. Ricca had to rely heavily on newspaper and magazine accounts (there are 45 pages of endnotes) because all the official records of most of her cases were destroyed by accident or intent. Throughout—as he acknowledges near the end—the author breathes life into the narrative by imagining gestures, thoughts, attitudes, and ruminations for his characters. After some very high-profile successes, Humiston’s career began to crack when she went after the military near the end of World War I, and she died in virtual obscurity.
Rapid, compelling storytelling informed by rigorous research and enlivened by fecund imagination.