- Hardcover: 448 pages
- Publisher: St. Martin's Press (3 January 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1250072247
- ISBN-13: 978-1250072245
- Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 3.9 x 24.4 cm
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #5,69,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Mrs. Sherlock Holmes: The True Story of New York City's Greatest Female Detective and the 1917 Missing Girl Case That Captivated a Nation Hardcover – 3 Jan 2017
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"The author of Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster―The Creators of Superman (2013) returns with the astonishing story of the first female U.S. district attorney...Rapid, compelling storytelling informed by rigorous research and enlivened by fecund imagination." ―Kirkus Reviews (Starred)
"Ricca has parlayed an obscure reference to Mrs. Sherlock Holmes in his earlier research into a spellbinding true crime history that reads like a novel. It will be enjoyed by aficionados of Victorian crime novels as well as true crime fans."―Library Journal (Starred)
"[Humiston's] story demands a hearing.... Brad Ricca makes a heroic case for Humiston, a lawyer and United States district attorney who forged a career of defending powerless women and immigrants." ―New York Times Book Review
"Fans of Erik Larson’s books will enjoy reading about Grace Humiston’s remarkable career in an era when women were still fighting for the right to vote."―Booklist
"In Mrs. Sherlock Holmes, Brad Ricca paints the picture of Grace Humiston, a soft-spoken yet persistent woman investigator determined to solve the disappearance of an 18-year-old girl―this in the midst of both the suffragist and white-slavery movements. Where the police leave off, Humiston, undaunted by naysayers, picks up clues and doggedly follows them. Ricca lays out this fascinating whodunit with a novelist's skill, making Mrs. Sherlock Holmes a suspenseful winner." ―Cathy Scott, award-winning journalist and Los Angeles Times bestselling author of Murder of a Mafia Daughter and The Killing of Tupac Shakur
"Brad Ricca’s spellbinding nonfiction account of the disappearance and murder of a young woman ranks right up there with the most absorbing mystery novels. Set against a background of early 20th century New York, Mrs. Sherlock Holmes exposes police indifference, newspaper sensationalism and sexist attitudes. A first-rate story." ―Sandra Dallas, New York Times Bestselling author of The Last Midwife
"A fascinating account of Grace Humiston, a pioneering attorney in the early 20th century...Her incredible life story, superbly portrayed by Ricca, is more proof that truth is stranger than fiction." ―Publisher's Weekly
About the Author
BRAD RICCA is the author of Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster--the Creators of Superman, winner of the Ohioana Book Award for Nonfiction and the Cleveland Arts Prize for Literature. His first book of poetry, American Mastodon, won the St. Lawrence Book Award. His documentary Last Son won a Silver Ace Award at the Las Vegas International Film Festival. He has been a contributing expert for the New York Daily News, TheWall Street Journal, the BBC, the AV Club, and All Things Considered. He is a SAGES Fellow at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, where he was born and now lives with his family.
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The case Ricca chose to give most of his attention to is that of Ruth Cruger, a 17 year old girl who disappeared in February, 1917. The search for her became a cause celebre in New York City. Grace Humiston was quick to take part in the investigation because the Cruger case exemplified one of her pet peeves against the police and media of the time: they always seemed to assume that a missing girl or woman had eloped, or that she was unhappy at home and had run away, or that something else not very sinister had happened to her. Humiston advocated for crimes against women to be taken more seriously, and warned that many young girls in New York were being kidnapped by white slavers. The Cruger case was interesting and did in the end come to a resolution, but I felt that some of the other cases Ricca also covered were even more compelling, especially the lengthy investigation by Humiston and her associates of a peonage case involving Italian immigrants on a large Mississippi plantation. Humiston also investigated several Death Row cases and was able to achieve reprieves or even commutations in several cases where she uncovered new evidence. Unfortunately her later career was somewhat overshadowed by controversial charges she made that soldiers at a military base were systematically abusing and murdering young women, but even so Humiston's tireless advocacy for women, minorities, and other disadvantaged peoples deserves to be remembered.
Overall I enjoyed Mrs. Sherlock Holmes though I found it a bit disjointed at times, jumping back and forth between cases over a period of about fifteen years. It's understandable that Ricca chose the Cruger case as a major framework for telling Humiston's story, but nevertheless the lack of a real denouement for the case (due to circumstances beyond Humiston and Ricca's control) made that part somewhat disappointing. I was also puzzled by the foreword's description of a 1914 visit by Arthur Conan Doyle to New York City, which really had very little, if anything, to do with Grace Humiston. Nevertheless Mrs. Sherlock Holmes is a worthwhile read because it brings Grace Humiston and her almost forgotten career back to life at a time, as Ricca reminds us in his final pages, when women and girls are still being kidnapped and otherwise victimized.
Grace Humiston's fame arose from her work with the Hungarian-born detective Julius J. Kron in solving the disappearance of Ruth Kruger in 1915. The case had gained worldwide attention because young Ruth photographed well and her well-connected father raised hell over the failure of the police to find his daughter. Humiston and Kron's success despite the efforts of the police to undermine them led to a series of indictments of men in the NYPD for incompetence, dereliction of duty, and corruption. But the issue that had drawn Humiston into the case was never addressed to her satisfaction. It was called "white slavery" then. We refer to it as human trafficking today. Humiston, however, was obsessed with a single aspect of the issue: the seduction of high-school girls by prostitution rings. She became so consumed with concern over this issue that she closed her law practice to launch a public education campaign and set up a home for girls rescued from their captors.
Despite the fame that the great female detective gained for her work on the Ruth Cruger case, her most significant contribution by far had come much earlier in her career. Not long after establishing the People's Law Firm, she spent seven weeks traveling through the South to investigate the disappearance of Italian immigrants from their families in New York. They had been lured southward on the promise of well-paying jobs. Instead, the men (sometimes with their whole families) were put to work at exhausting jobs on turpentine camps as virtual slaves, housed in run-down shacks, and forced to buy food and other necessities from company stores. The issue then was called peonage. The practice was widespread in the American South, and not just at turpentine camps. It was a national disgrace.
Using a variety of disguises to enter the camps and interview workers, Humiston succeeded in revealing an extensive network of exploitation that involved recruiters in Italy, Spain, and elsewhere who had brought thousands of immigrants to the United States on false pretenses. Her work gained the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt, who called her to the White House to report her findings.
Unfortunately, the president called off government intervention in the issue after an old friend of his wrote him a letter discrediting Humiston and denying all the charges. The man had been Humiston's chief target in her investigation—and he had just been elected to the United States Senate. However, the issue had been exposed through the press, and gradually the practice of peonage declined. In the process, Humiston's skill and tenacity gained her an appointment as Special Assistant United States District Attorney, the first woman to gain such a high-ranking position in the Department of Justice.
This is a fascinating story, and an important one. The accounts of Humiston's work at the People's Law Firm, the Ruth Cruger case, and the peonage investigation occupy about the first half of Brad Ricca's Mrs. Sherlock Holmes. (Humiston was called by that name in the press for a time following the Cruger investigation.) Regrettably, the book weakens markedly after that point. The story wanders back and forth through time, relating the progress of the prosecution of the police officers whose incompetence was revealed by Humiston and Kron and briefly describing a number of additional cases in which Humiston became involved as either a detective or an attorney. (Only one of those police officers was ultimately convicted, and after his release from prison he was rehired by the NYPD!)
Ricca's account of the events that led to the disgrace and fall of the great female detective from public favor is choppy and difficult to understand. Apparently, she departed from her customary caution and reliance on facts to publicly announce as proven fact a number of salacious rumors. Unwisely, she spoke publicly and bragged to the press that she had proof about the mistreatment and even murder of young women at an army base on Long Island where troops were being mustered before shipment to France in the closing year of World War I. Humiston repeatedly insisted she had affidavits and other proof in hand, and at one point that she had even delivered this information to the authorities. But never did any such information surface. Obviously, she had chosen the wrong target—an army base in the midst of a popular foreign war. Although Humiston continued to speak out on white slavery for many years afterward, and she did meet success from time to time in defending accused murderers, her role as "Mrs. Sherlock Holmes" was clearly over.
Brad Ricca has written two nonfiction books and a volume of poetry. He teaches creative writing at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, where he was born, raised, and still lives. Mrs. Sherlock Holmes is a nominee for a 2018 Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime.
For my review of a more accomplished nonfiction book about another headline-grabbing case that garnered nationwide attention in the same era, see The case that helped put the FBI on the map. It's about David Grann's excellent book, Killers of the Flower Moon. However, if you prefer to read about crime in fictional form, go to 53 excellent mystery and thriller series and 18 excellent standalone mysteries and thrillers.
I just started this book and I’m already irked by it. I’m going to finish it because my book club chose it and I was drawn to the subject and perspective. But the writing is incredibly stilted, unnecessarily so. Maybe Ricca wants it to read like a police blotter, but who can stand that? I was a reporter covering police and believe me, you do not want to read an entire book of police reports. It would be like actually reading 10 Johnny Dollar radio shows, all in a row. Just listening to one at a time is sufficient.
Mostly however I cannot stand the jumping between decades. There seems to be no literary reason for it. So far.
So I’m going to try reading one story and one timeframe through and then go back to the earlier story/timeframe and read that. Maybe thus my ADD won’t go off the rails.
I’m hoping some sympathetic soul reading this will let me know if that’s a waste of time and that I should just slog straight through this for some benefits I’m not seeing yet.