Saturday, October 10, 2015

Cold Morning by Ed Ifkovic

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: October 10, 2015

January 3, 1935. The trial opens in Flemington, New Jersey, for the man accused of the crime of the century. And Edna Ferber is there to cover it. 1932. On a windy March 1 night, Charles Lindbergh, America s hero, discovers that his twenty-month-old son has been snatched from his crib. A ransom is arranged. Yet two months later, Little Lindy is found in a ditch near his Hopewell home, several weeks dead from a blow to the head. It takes over two years to arrest a suspect. Bruno Richard Hauptmann is caught passing one of the marked ransom bills. Press from across the world swarm to his trial. Bestselling novelist Edna Ferber and raconteur Aleck Woollcott, both hired by the New York Times to cover it, are part of the media frenzy, bickering like the literary lions they are. Did this immigrant carpenter really commit the crime? Alone? Observant sometime-sleuth Edna is not so sure. Local citizens, whipped into a frenzy by the yellow press, march through the streets demanding Hauptmann burn. Walter Winchell takes the lynch mob sentiment national. A British waitress at Edna's hotel, who'd hinted she had priceless information that could blow the trial wide open, is murdered. Edna begins to suspect a miscarriage of justice is underway, fueled in part by anti-German sentiment, in part by class privilege. Edna doesn't find Colonel Lindbergh the golden boy of legend. But there he is, entering the courthouse flanked by a quartet of New Jersey troopers. There's Hauptmann, handsome and calm despite his date with the electric chair unless Edna can alter the course of justice.

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Charles Lindbergh testifying.
I didn't have to read the description of Ed Ifkovic's Cold Morning to know what it was about. I casually studied the Lindbergh kidnapping several years ago and something about the house lodged itself in my memory. The colors on the jacket image are more haunting than the crime scene photos, but the subject matter is unmistakable.

The abduction of Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. shocked and captivated the nation. There was intense pressure to arrest and convict the culprit and the trial was nothing short of a media circus. The atmosphere was chaotic and I think Ifkovic did a marvelous job recreating in Cold Morning. The story is fiction, but I like the ideas Edna Ferber's investigation inspires. The course of the action forces the reader to think about the trial and the actions of those involved. It makes one question the outcome of the proceedings and whether justice was truly served. 

Unfortunately the story is undermined by rapid momentum and paper thin characterizations. The narrative hits the ground running and never lets up which made reading it something of an endurance test. Events aren't difficult to grasp, but the constant motion was mentally taxing. To make matter worse, my lack of experience with heroine Edna Ferber put me at a distinct disadvantage. Cold Morning is the seventh installment of Ifkovic's investigative series and he wastes no ink developing his leading lady. I understand he knows this character inside and out, but the omission leaves new readers very aware they've missed something and makes it next to impossible to empathize with the tribulations she faces as the story unfolds. 

When all is said and done, I found Cold Morning thought-provoking, but bland. Interesting in terms of subject matter, but not particularly memorable. 

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Flemington would always be one long cold morning for me—a frozen tableau of hoary ice and snow showers and the awful stillness on the landscape. An empty street at that time of day, but within hours impassable, clogged with cars puffing out exhaust, people streaming past, frantic, loud, anxious. The specter of death and judgment covered the trees like a fog. Cold morning: this was a town that could never get warm again.
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