The Jazz Bird
The Jazz Bird is an imaginative retelling of the true story of the murder of Imogene Remus by her husband George, a bootlegger. On the surface, this was an open-and-shut case. In 1927, Remus, on his way to divorce Imogene, instead chased her into a park in Cincinnati and shot her. The “why” of this case tantalizingly unfolds. The prosecuting attorney, Charlie Taft, falls a bit in love with the victim, the jazz bird of the title, and when he reads her journals and letters, we segue into her voice. Little by little we get the details of her life and marriage to Remus. Is she a loving wife or Remus’s betrayer?
Holden’s strength is in his telling of all sides of the story. The Prohibition era is vividly recreated with its world of federal agents, lowlife cronies, and society people who had no compunction about buying a bootlegger’s product but more reservations about mingling with him socially. Imogene, a lawyer’s daughter, aims to break down those barriers when she takes up with Remus. The framework of the story is the murder trial where Remus pleads insanity. Will he be found guilty or get off? Holden sticks mostly to the facts while presenting credible alternatives that flesh out the case and make this an engrossing tale up to the last page.