Author Karen Abbott
Karen Abbott is the New York Times bestselling author of SIN IN THE SECOND CITY, AMERICAN ROSE, and LIAR TEMPTRESS SOLDIER SPY, named one of the best books of the year by Library Journal, the Christian Science Monitor, and Amazon. She has written for NewYorker.com, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Smithsonian Magazine, and other publications. Her new book, THE GHOSTS OF EDEN PARK, is an instant New York Times bestseller, an Edgar Award Finalist for best fact crime, an Indie Next pick, an Amazon best book of 2019, and a Smithsonian Magazine top ten history book of 2019. The Wall Street Journal calls THE GHOSTS OF EDEN PARK “vibrant and enormously readable,” and names Abbott “one of the masters of the art” of narrative nonfiction.
THE GHOSTS OF EDEN PARK
The epic true crime story of bootlegger George Remus and the murder that shocked the nation, from the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City and Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy.
In the early days of Prohibition, long before Al Capone became a household name, a German immigrant named George Remus quits practicing law and starts trafficking whiskey. Within two years he’s a multimillionaire. The press calls him “King of the Bootleggers,” writing breathless stories about the Gatsby-esque events he and his glamorous second wife, Imogene, host at their Cincinnati mansion, with party favors ranging from diamond jewelry for the men to brand new cars for the women. By the summer of 1921, Remus owns 35 percent of all the liquor in the United States.
Pioneering prosecutor Mabel Walker Willebrandt is determined to bring him down. Willebrandt’s bosses at the Justice Department hired her right out of law school, assuming she’d pose no real threat to the cozy relationship they maintain with Remus. Eager to prove them wrong, she dispatches her best investigator, Franklin Dodge, to look into his empire. It’s a decision with deadly consequences: With Remus behind bars, Dodge and Imogene begin an affair and plot to take over his empire, sparking a bitter feud that soon reaches the highest levels of government–and that can only end in murder.
In a sentence or two, what is your book about?
THE GHOSTS OF EDEN PARK is the stranger-than-fiction tale of George Remus, America’s most successful bootlegger and the real-life inspiration for Jay Gatsby. Remus is riding high until his wife falls in love with the same Prohibition agent who put him in jail. As one reviewer said, it’s nonfiction’s answer to THE GREAT GATSBY.
Why did you write it?
I couldn’t resist! This story had it all: glamour, greed, lust, money, deceit, insanity, a powerful woman (a necessity in all of my books), fascinating history, murder, mystery. The primary source material included a trial transcript that allowed me to recreate scenes in a cinematic way–I wanted the book to read like a movie script. George and Imogene had such a passionate, volatile relationship, and it became clear that both were capable of murdering the other. So the book also became a real-life who-dun-it. Someone fires a gunshot in the first scene, but the culprit is only revealed much later on. It’s my hope that readers are surprised by the twists and turns.
What was the spark for the story?
I was a huge fan of Boardwalk Empire, a show about Prohibition that aired on HBO a few years ago. It brilliantly captured the dawn of the 1920s, when bootleggers were just figuring out how to circumvent Prohibition laws, and no one had yet heard of Al Capone. There was a minor character named George Remus. He spoke of himself in the third person, which made for some very funny scenes! I wondered if George Remus was a real historical figure, and indeed he was. The real Remus also spoke of himself in the third person, but his story was much more fascinating and dramatic than anything portrayed on the show.
What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
I always say that I’m in the business of time travel. If someone picks up THE GHOSTS OF EDEN PARK, I want them to be transported back to a different time and place— a time when women were newly daring and bold, when gangsters lurked around every corner, when cocktails were served behind concealed doors, and when the entire world seemed to be on a giddy high. I think George Remus and this story could only have existed int he 1920s, and I want people to feel like they went back and experienced it all.
Can you share something interesting that happened while you were writing the book—an unexpected encounter, something you learned about the subject or about yourself?
Imogene Remus’s ghost reportedly haunts the gazebo in Eden Park. Professional ghost hunters have gone there at night and seen glimpses of a woman dressed in a long gown, running as fast as she can. When I visited Cincinnati for research, I spent some time in Eden Park—and I could have sworn I saw the flicker of her ghost… Also: I learned that George Remus did not wear underwear! Apparently this was cause for great concern in the 1920s; it could be the sign of an “unsound mind.”
Do you have any suggestions for our book clubs—a link to a reader’s guide, or a question or two that might open a lively discussion at a book club meeting?
Here’s a link to a reader’s guide, complete with Roaring 20s music and cocktail recommendations! https://karenabbott.net/GhostsRG
Is there anything else you would like the Pulpwood Queens Book Clubs to know about you or your book?
My goal is to write narrative nonfiction that reads like fiction. I want people to finish my books and say, “I can’t believe that actually happened.” I think the Pulpwood Queens would also appreciate that I always feature strong (and often scandalous!) women characters. Women have always been written out of history, and it’s a privilege to write them back in.
Thank you for reading, and I’m so excited to chat with you all!
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