Old News: An Edna Ferber Mystery

Written by Ed Ifkovic
Review by Helene Williams

It’s a hot, airless summer in 1923 Chicago, and writer Edna Ferber and her mother are visiting family friends, the Newmanns. Edna is gathering fodder for the book that will become So Big (and win a Pulitzer Prize). She’s sizing up the neighborhood inhabitants—a mix of Jewish, Russian, German, and other immigrants. While gathering details, she becomes intrigued, or, rather, obsessed, with Leah Brenner, the Newmanns’ next-door neighbor, who was accused of murdering her husband, Ivan, years ago. Since returning from a mental health facility, Leah rarely goes outside, and the neighbors don’t visit.

Edna turns her focus from her own writing to the mystery of the Brenners, as she’s immediately convinced that Leah didn’t kill Ivan, and that someone in the neighborhood must know the truth. A published writer with a sharp tongue, with no interest or intention of marrying, Edna already stands out as a forward woman; this gets her in trouble repeatedly, as she asks questions and says things that embarrass her mother, her host family, and the Brenners. However, she knows she can get to the bottom of what the police say was an open-and-shut case, if she just keeps poking around. Putting truth above mores and manners has its costs, though, as she discovers.

This is Ifkovic’s eighth outing with Edna Ferber as sleuth, and he brings the characters of post-Great War Chicago to life: the accents, the clothes, the food, the traditions. The story itself is fairly gritty, with few details spared of the emotional and physical trauma that happened behind closed doors and is now being relived. Readers will be front and center for the action, the pain, and Edna’s plans to trap the real killer.