MURDER, KIDNAP AND THE TRUE STORY OF AN EXTRAORDINARY LADY DETECTIVE
GRACE VERSUS THE UNDERWORLD RELEASED OUT NOW AUTHOR BRAD RICCA PUBLISHER AMBERLEY AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK
One afternoon in February 1917, as Europe was fighting and cold weather was blanketing the east coast of the USA, 18- year- old Ruth Cruger went out to collect her ice skates from a local shop, having taken them to get the blades sharpened, and was never seen alive again.
The case of Ruth Cruger forms the crux of Brad Ricca’s book, which ostensibly tells the story of lawyer Grace Humiston – or ‘ Mrs Sherlock Holmes’ as the press referred to her – but it also presents a problem for the reader. Grace was undoubtedly an unusual woman, spending a large part of her life fighting on behalf of those neglected by the US legal system: immigrants, the poor, and the families of missing young women. Yet it is the case of Ruth Cruger, and how it was solved with the help of Grace, that is the most interesting part of the book, and one can’t help wishing it was simply about that.
Instead, Ricca uses different techniques to try and pad Grace’s story out, and it gives the sense that he was left frustrated by gaps in her story and the archival record, yet he also gets somewhat bogged down in what evidence there is. The first part moves backwards and forwards in time to try and show Grace’s career developing from her time at New York University onwards, but after Ruth’s disappearance, it takes on a more straightforward narrative. There are also a few mistakes made in the writing – such as with the time that Ruth Cruger may have died ( on page 249, he writes, “Ruth’s watch had stopped at 2.10pm” but then, on page 262, “Her watch had stopped at 2.30pm”).
He also concentrates on Grace’s professional life, her family background only being detailed for the first time, fairly briefly, on page 254, and then again in the epilogue, where Ricca does a quick synopsis of each “character’s” life subsequent to the Cruger case. There is a brief tale involving Grace’s siblings, which could have been made more of, as they sound interesting characters themselves. Overall, though, there is little attempt made to understand what made Grace Humiston tick, and she remains rather two- dimensional as a result.
IF YOU LIKE THIS TRY...Rex v Edith ThompsonLaura Thompson For a lesson in how to write creatively about a real- life case, try this account of the 1922 murder of Percy Thompson.