Review by Judith Starkston (judithstarkston.com)
The sleuth in this mystery is Edna Ferber during her early years in Appleton Wisconsin before she had started her career as a novelist (Show Boat, So Big,Giant) and become a member of the Algonquin Round Table. You might want to read this mystery in honor of Elizabeth Taylor, whose stunning performance with James Dean in Giant arises out of Ferber’s novel of the same name.
Ferber’s novels emphasized independent women who made an impression on the world through character not beauty, and Ifkovic styles his mystery in a similar fashion. Ferber riles the town and her family with her unconventional job as “girl reporter.” When Houdini returns to his home town for a visit, she snags an interview with him, much to the annoyance of her domineering editor who hates the idea of women in the news business. The boundaries set for Miss Ferber in her small town life are clearly busting at the seams, a situation Houdini helps her recognize. Confronting the murder of one of her school friends further erodes her well-being in her old life. With some “magical” help from Houdini and the disapproval of everyone else, she tries to solve the murder. This is both a coming of age story and a murder mystery.
The book has some charms. Small town life at the beginning of the twentieth century is vividly portrayed, down to the gossip at the general store, the influence of German immigrants on the town’s life, the narrowly defined roles for women, the fashions and foods. You’ll like Edna with her irrepressible search for the facts, her quick tongue, and her love of flowery language. There’s a nuanced portrayal of Houdini, his arrogance and bravado balanced by an endearing protectiveness toward Edna and hints of his insecurities. You may also find yourself wishing the book would move along faster. If you read a mystery for the way a plot grabs hold of you rather than the descriptive details, this book may let you down. On the other hand, if you love a leisurely portrait of a period and character along with your story, this book will please you.
Escape Artist is due out from Poisoned Pen Press in June 2011.
Edna Ferber Mystery
1. Lone Star (2009)
2. Escape Artist (2011) Signed