ABOUT THE BOOK:
The epic true crime story of bootlegger George Remus and the murder that shocked the nation, from the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City and Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy
In the early days of Prohibition, long before Al Capone became a household name, a German immigrant named George Remus quits practicing law and starts trafficking whiskey. Within two years he's a multimillionaire. The press calls him "King of the Bootleggers," writing breathless stories about the Gatsby-esque events he and his glamorous second wife, Imogene, host at their Cincinnati mansion, with party favors ranging from diamond jewelry for the men to brand new Pontiacs for the women. By the summer of 1921, Remus owns 35 percent of all the liquor in the United States.
Pioneering prosecutor Mabel Walker Willebrandt is determined to bring him down.
Combining deep historical research with novelistic flair, THE GHOSTS OF EDEN PARK is the unforgettable, stranger-than-fiction story of a rags-to-riches entrepreneur and a long-forgotten heroine, of the excesses and absurdities of the Jazz Age, and of the infinite human capacity to deceive.
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The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America by Karen Abbott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America by Karen Abbott is a 2019 Crown Publishing Group publication.
An absorbing and shocking true crime saga!!
George Remus is a name I was only moderately familiar with. I knew he was a famous bootlegger during prohibition, but I didn’t know much more than that. I had not familiarized myself with his complex criminal operation or with his personal issues, which included referring to himself in third person, and the hint of mental instability. So, I had no idea what to expect when I started reading this book.
Well, to say George lived a colorful life is an understatement. As an attorney, he found a way to procure alcohol legally for “medicinal purposes.” This subterfuge allowed him to take control of a large percentage of distilleries. From there he built a very lucrative bootlegging operation which made him quite wealthy, earning him the moniker, “The King of the Bootleggers’.
George and his second wife, Imogene, lived a lavish lifestyle, handing out diamonds and cars to their party guests, but the law was not ignorant of his enterprise. Enter Mabel Walker Willebrandt, a prosecutor with the Attorney General’s office, whose job it was to investigate and prosecute violators of the Volstead Act.
Mabel Walker Willebrandt
This is where the story really gets interesting. One of Wellebrant’s agents, Frank Dodge, was assigned the task of infiltrating Remus’ empire. Frank’s involvement lead to a shocking turn of events that would have made a gripping crime novel. The head spinning twist and turns in this case just goes to show that truth really is stranger than fiction…
Since Truman Capote spoiled us with his ‘True Crime Novel’, any other approach to this ‘genre’ can be mind numbingly dry. Yet, Karen Abbott has employed a new technique which I thought worked out quite well.
The book is written in the standard chronological format- thank goodness, as I’ve never seen nonfiction work out when someone gets creative with the timeline. The research is also noteworthy as the author had access to thousands of pages of transcripts. Naturally, this requires exceptional organizational skill, and Ms. Abbot did a phenomenal job with so much material.
There are many people involved in this tale, and unlike fiction, where the author has control over the number of characters involved in the plot, the author didn’t have that same luxury when it came to writing nonfiction. Still, I thought Abbott handled it nicely, including all the key players in this saga without allowing it to slow down the momentum. In fact, the book is very fast paced, and held my interest all throughout.
As one will gather from the title, bootlegging is not the only crime at play. A murder is eminent which is where Abbot applies one truly unique and clever trick-
Unless one already knows how this story plays out, the victim and the murderer remain a secret until the killing transpires in real time. Abbott keeps us on the edge of our seat, building the suspense and keeping one guessing like this was a fictional murder mystery.
Then there is that stunning trial! The prosecutor was Charles Phelps Taft II, son of William Howard Taft. But you will have to read this book to believe how it concluded. It’s one of the most insane trials I’ve ever read about from this era. Talk about putting on a show!
I admit, by the time I turned the final page, I was shaking my head in disbelief. This is one bizarre story and will take readers on a wild roller coaster ride through prohibition and the politics of the day. But mostly this is one of the most entertaining true crime books I’ve read.
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