Edna Ferber’s eighth case finds her on the cusp of fame—though little does she know it, since she’s stuck back in Chicago with her imperious mother and a long-ago murder case.
Retreating in 1923 from her stressful stint on a Milwaukee newspaper, Ferber, already widely known as the author of stories for women’s magazines, joins her mother on a weeklong visit to Julia Ferber’s old friend and former neighbor Esther Newmann. From her first sight of Leah Brenner, the neighbor convicted of killing her husband, it’s clear that this vacation will be anything but restful. Leah herself, released from a mental asylum and returned to the neighborhood 15 years after her husband, butcher Ivan Brenner, was fatally stabbed in the neck shortly after the couple’s latest fight, comes across as gentle, fragile, and hospitable to Edna. It’s the rest of her family that’s the problem. Naturally, Ivan’s brother Ezra, a Philadelphia lawyer also recently back in town, is convinced that Leah killed Ivan. But so are Leah’s sister and Leah’s children, financially successful Herman, vagabond poet Jacob, and twin sisters Ella and Emma. Even Esther Newmann and her son, Adolph, wonder what Edna hopes to gain by stirring up these ancient ashes again. And Detective Liam O’Reilly, when Edna looks him up to ask about his original investigation, is considerably less polite. The more time Edna spends in the sweltering neighborhood where she grew up, the more she wonders why everyone’s so determined to keep this case closed.
A lot of conversations, some heavily salted with Yiddish, that mostly reveal the same consistent bad feelings toward the convicted killer. It’s nice that the publication of So Big is about to make the real-life heroine (Cold Morning, 2016, etc.) a major literary star.