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1920s Crime & Craziness

The Ghosts of Eden Park, Karen Abbott’s 2019 popular history, tells a dramatic true-life story. So much happens – it is so over-the-top – that it is difficult to believe. Nevertheless, it’s all true.

Abbott, who now goes by the name of Abbott Kahler, is a skilled writer who found success with other histories: Sin in the Second City, American Rose, and Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy. Drawn to tales of crime, betrayal, and the intersection of popular culture and politics, Abbot mixes first-person historical accounts with tabloid-like descriptions and focus. She likes the lurid. Ghosts is a fine example of this sort of work. Abbott’s book is engaging and entertaining.

The story is about a murder trial and the intrigues and stresses that led to it. George Remus and his wife, Imogen, are the primary characters. It takes place in the Midwest in the early twentieth century, a hotbed of crime and Americana. Remus was a pharmacist, lawyer, and wildly ambitious bootlegger who amassed and lost a fortune. Imogen, an equally dynamic character, was his partner and wife. That was, however, until Remus was locked up for some of his crimes. Plotting, criminal activity and all manner of excess take place before the trials. We get a good picture of the investigatory and legal work that led to Remus’s incarceration. Abbott switches her focus very effectively.

In a surprising twist, Imogen takes up with a Department of Justice investigator who was tasked with investigating her wayward husband. Twists and double twists swirl around Remus. He is too dangerous and amoral to serve as a traditional hero. However, as a key character, he is perfect.

Once Imogen’s affair became serious, the investigator resigned from the government. Remus was released and more acrimonious conflict soon followed. There’s lying, crime, violence, more trials, and a surprising interplay with national politics and players. Remus built his business at the start of Prohibition, tangled with other criminals and the politicos, as well as the up and comers in Cincinnati and Chicago. Corruption in the Harding Administration fueled his enterprise.

Snaps to Kahler for putting together a very engaging history, a book that reads like a novel and is grounded in research. There will be a movie, too. The story is that good.

David Potash

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