This is the second Edna Ferber mystery, being a prequel to Ifkovic’s Lone Star. In Escape Artist, it is 1904 and Edna is a year out of high school and working as a “girl reporter” for the Appleton, Wisconsin, Crescent newspaper. Relegated to society news, she gets a break when she sees Appleton native Harry Houdini on the street. Houdini had said he wouldn’t be giving any interviews on this trip home, but changes his mind when he meets Edna, in whom he recognizes something of himself.
Edna’s editor is not impressed with Edna, Houdini, or small-town Appleton. Edna’s troubles with her editor are nothing compared to her battles with her older sister and mother, who cannot understand why Edna wants to work outside the home.
When beautiful Frana Lempke goes missing from high school and is found dead a few days later, everyone tells Edna to stay away from the investigation. But Edna knew Frana and has ideas about the murder, murderer, and Frana’s mysterious escape from a locked storage room in the high school.
There are suspects galore: Frana’s ex-boyfriend, Frana’s false best friend, her crazy uncle and scary brothers, and the mysterious “older man” Frana was allegedly going to run away with. Much to the chagrin of her boss and her family, Edna interviews suspects and becomes deeply involved in solving the crime. With the help of Harry Houdini and using her “imagination and concentration,” Edna uncovers the culprit.
Ifkovic keeps readers guessing, mixing intrigue with enough historical detail to place Edna in the world of early twentieth-century, small-town Wisconsin. This is a fun mystery full of local color. I look forward to more of Edna’s adventures.