Now that he’s seen her through six murder cases (Café Europa, 2015, etc.), Ifkovic turns sleuthing novelist/playwright Edna Ferber loose on the biggest game of all: the Lindbergh kidnapping.
Everyone who’s anyone seems to have come to Flemington, New Jersey, to watch Bruno Richard Hauptmann go on trial for having caused the death of Little Lindy, the infant he’s accused of taking from his nursery. The real-life celebrities in attendance include Damon Runyon, Adela Rogers St. Johns, Sheilah Graham, Ginger Rogers, Dorothy Kilgallen, and, most influentially, Walter Winchell. The New York Times has added to the mix of “scribbling gladiators in a Jersey Circus Maximus” by sending Edna and her Algonquin Round Table frenemy Alexander Woollcott to nose out human-interest stories and file columns. Woollcott is only too happy to join the crowd baying for the German immigrant’s blood. But while Woollcott fiddles, Edna burns. Though she deplores the spectators’ rush to judgment on Hauptmann, she’s less interested in the question of his innocence or guilt than in the press’ shameful neglect of Annabel Biggs, the Cockney waitress in the local cafe apparently strangled to death by her boyfriend, guileless Newark bumpkin Cody Lee Thomas, and her roommate, Peggy Crispin, whose fears about being stalked and having her room searched were silenced for good when she froze to death a few nights later. Ifkovic’s interweaving of these two neglected fatalities and the celebrated Lindbergh case is more workmanlike than inspired. So is the solution he propounds to the kidnapping. But the rounds between Edna and Woollcott draw real blood, and Edna’s jaundiced view of American journalistic justice is both troubling and unsettlingly timely.
Perhaps the finest hour yet for a fictionalized heroine who defends herself against undue prejudice in favor of a supremely unpopular defendant by saying, “I have taken no position—except doubt.”