There are some bizarre and crazy things happening all around us these days, but try to imagine this scene: a man on trial for murdering his wife decides to represent himself, and to use the defense of insanity.
A scintillating true story of fast times during prohibition, The Ghosts of Eden Park describes the empire-building of bootlegging kingpin George Remus, as well as his takedown at the hands of two women–one to whom he was married, and the other who had sworn an oath to defend the laws of her country.
Remus leaves his first wife and young daughter for the seemingly daft Imogene, whom he marries while traveling from New York to Ohio. He has decided to give up his law practice and go into bootlegging instead — he defended numerous bootleggers who were able to pay him in wads of cash! He comes up with a foolproof plan to get rich as a whiskey profiteer — a plan which he will put into motion upon arriving in Cincinnati.
But Imogene isn’t what she seems, although Remus takes her on as a full partner in his business. She is his confidante and the rightful owner of the couple’s mansion. After Mabel Walker Willebrandt, the assistant U.S. District Attorney, begins to investigate Remus, Imogene begins an affair with an FBI agent and Remus’s world turns upside down.
There is something infinitely satisfying about books that provide sentence-by-sentence reference materials. This is an exhaustively sourced novel, which makes it all the more fascinating. Imogene and George and Mabel were real people. Their families are still around. People who attended the murder trial or parties at the Remus mansion wrote about the events with gusto, and you can read their descriptions in old newspapers. Even the headlines for those stories, as recorded in the back of Abbott’s book, ring of intrigue.
As much as the title and other descriptions of the book make it appear to be centered on the women, it’s ultimately about George Remus. In that way, it is lacking a bit on motivation — what made Imogene decide to act the way she did? We learn more about Mabel, via letters she wrote to her parents and to a suitor during her time as ADA.
Remus is the ultimate showman, and the account of his murder trial at the end of the book is truly stunning. I was enthralled by the entire story — his marriage, his criminal network, the gall of his treatment toward the authorities, and most of all how he got away with it… until he didn’t. Give this book a read; you won’t regret it.