|Edna as a young reporter in Wisconsen|
Forthcoming, June 2011
A prequel to an earlier novel, Lone Star, that also featured novelist Edna Ferber as a detective (Appleton Library's Info. about Edna), this tale is set in early 20th century Appleton, Wisconsen where Edna (Ed) began her career as a "girl" reporter in a time when women did not usually work. The 19-year-old daughter of Jewish Hungarian immigrant storekeepers, her beat is lady's luncheons, teas, and the best fabrics to use for a shirtwaist. But her natural curiosity and verve lead her into trouble, first interviewing Houdini, then to investigate the murder of former classmate. Appleton is also the former home of Harry Houdini, who is home for a performance and provides Edna with a lot of good advice and a solution to the locked door murder mystery. Edna really did interview Houdini in 1924: Interview and Appleton apparently has a museum to both Ferber and Houdini.
This novel is by turns sweet, sad, and funny. The characters both real and fictional are fresh and true, the early twentieth century setting of Appleton is nicely presented and the plot is twisted and convoluted, maybe goes on a bit too long. I knew nothing about Edna Ferber before but her presentation here as the feisty but not pretty girl reporter is fun. It has a serious side, exploring such things as child and spousal abuse, her father's illness, sibling rivalry, the role of women, and anti-semitism, while following a sad murder of a local girl. The writing is not preachy though and seems to offer insights to this time so close yet so remote from us. I really enjoyed this novel.