A Jazz Age murder crosses color lines, drawing a noted patron of the arts to investigate the death of a promising black writer.
Novelist/playwright Edna Ferber is exhausted from preparing her plays to be presented in what her producer, Jed Harris, has called Broadway’s “Ferber Season.” But her normally quiet Manhattan apartment offers less refuge than usual when she returns home to find it inhabited by a spirited group of blacks. Edna remembers that she’d offered to let Waters Turpin, her housekeeper’s son, and his friends hold readings in a sort of Jazz Age salon. Edna can’t help but be attracted by all the creative vibrations in her home, and she goes so far as to befriend the struggling and terminally private Roddy Parsons, joining him to see Ellie Payne, wallflower-turned–jazz ingénue. When Edna runs into her old acquaintance Langston Hughes while she’s out on the town, she plans to make Waters and his crew known to the poet, but before she can set the wheels in motion, she discovers Roddy stabbed to death in his own bedroom. While the police, never overly concerned about the black community, seem convinced that this is a routine burglary gone wrong, Waters convinces Edna that something more must be afoot. When Edna discovers that Jed, who’s a bit of a cad, has ties to the group of friends, she is determined to find the murderer, even if it means putting herself at risk.
Edna’s motives are heavy-handed but laudable in a series (Make Believe, 2012, etc.) whose latest entry focuses less on mystery than on its characters, even though most of them speak in the same voice.