This true tale set in the Prohibition era follows the tragic trajectory of bootlegger George Remus and his second wife, Imogene. I had never heard of George Remus but his story is quite epic. At one time he owned 35% of all the liquor in the United States. He was sharp and intelligent; first, a lawyer before he went into the illegal whiskey business. I refuse to say his downfall was Imogene as I think it’s a common trope/myth throughout perpetuity that a woman is the root of a man’s downward spiral, either mentally or financially or both. Not saying Imogene was a saint but George made his own choices in my opinion.
Now I love a soap opera and you could not make up a better story than this one: an infamous bootlegger’s wife having an affair with the Prohibition agent sent to take Remus down.
Remus’s claim of temporary insanity is up for debate, yet Abbott’s portrayal of his deterioration into psychosis when learning of his wife’s betrayal while serving a prison term is distressing and hard to dispute. His rants and mood swings and just general gnashing of teeth is bizarre and wacky. But the wacky turns to disastrous.
The equally fascinating part of the book for me is Abbott’s concentration on the first woman U.S. Assistant Attorney General, Mabel Walker Willebrandt. When she takes the position Willebrandt makes prosecuting Remus her main priority, but her decision to send FBI Prohibition agent Franklin Dodge to investigate Remus is a fatal one. Her personal and professional strengths and weaknesses in a man’s world is enlightening and authentic.
For a Gatsby-esque tale of money, murder and mayhem check out The Ghosts of Eden Park.
— Review by Heather, St. Matthews