In this novel, based on a true story, the author tries to explain how the New York State Supreme Court Justice, Joseph Crater, suddenly went missing. He does a marvelous job of creating suspense with a largely realistic narrative that feels like it just might be plausible. Not all of the characters are real and at the end of the book, the author explains which are pertinent and which are not. He uses fictional characters to set up the atmosphere of the times in which they struggled, each in his/her own way.
On August 6, 1930, the real Judge Crater vanished and was never seen again. His body was never found and there was no explanation for his disappearance. He rose to his position during the time of speakeasies, showgirls, and gangsters. The political machine was well oiled. Corruption was commonplace. Everyone seemed to have a price in New York, sometimes on their own heads! Some familiar names will jump off the page; one in particular was Al Smith and another was Franklin Roosevelt, both Governors of New York State during Judge Crater’s career.
The three main female characters are quite a triumvirate! They are very strong-willed, single-minded women from very different walks of life who labored against difficult odds. They followed their ambition, their instincts, their hearts, and the men in their lives. Stella was the wife of Judge Crater. Maria was a seamstress and the Crater’s maid. Ritzi was a showgirl, actress, escort, and sometimes mistress of the Judge. Each of these women had character in their own individual way, and each was connected to the other in some unforeseen coincidence. Each understood the value of keeping a secret and the value of deception when necessary. Each was motivated by tremendous ambition and/or the desire to protect someone in their lives whom they either loved or needed. Each wanted more out of their lives than they had at present, and each was dedicated or indebted to a male figure. They had come through the school of hard knocks and were living in a time period when women were largely powerless on their own and, therefore, relied on men for their fame and fortune.
The story spans almost five decades, from the 20’s to the end of the 60’s, in an attempt to explain the background of Joseph Crater leading up to his appointment as Supreme Court Justice and his ultimate disappearance and presumed murder. Like the media today, they ran with the story for a headline, without much regard for the facts. Gangsters routinely blackmailed and “coerced” those they could, in order to obtain the authority they required to be successful, powerful and in control. Some in the police department and other businesses were blatantly dishonest.
again and again in order to connect them to Crater’s disappearance and one or another person of questionable character like Owney Madden, who was an actual gangster, heavily involved in organized crime. He was a major figure who created the excitement and mystery around which the story revolved. Each of the women had a connection to him, willingly or not. Owney Madden seemed to move the players around like chess pieces. He was powerful and well connected.
In an attempt to piece together the tale of Judge Crater’s disappearance, from the few facts known, that were not taken to the graves of the witnesses, this author has embroidered a very good mystery and detective whodunit it and has even included a moving love story. It is a good, well told tale that will definitely engage readers and hold their interest.