The Edge of Ruin
by Irene Fleming
Cover Artist: Photo courtesy of The Fort Lee Film Commission
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312575205
Date: 27 April 2010 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
In November of 1909, Emily Weiss is dismayed when her husband Adam sells his chain of nickelodeons and almost all of their worldly possessions. The Weisses move from Philadelphia to the Knickerbocker Hotel in Manhattan. Adam quickly establishes an independent film company, Melpomene Moving Pictures, and begins shooting on the nearby cliffs of Fort Lee, New Jersey. He has only a few weeks to deliver four completed films to his silent partner, Howie Kazanow, or become financially ruined. Meanwhile, he must outsmart Thomas Edison's Pinkerton agents who torment independent film directors, destroying their reels of film and sometimes torching their studios.
It seems no one can resist the allure of starring in a film, not even an unsavory Pinkerton agent such as Seamus Duffy. During the filming of a Western mob scene, someone fatally stabs Duffy. Could the killer be a member of the cast and crew of Melpomene or one of the populace of Fort Lee? Nevertheless, Adam is charged with murder and thrown in jail. Poor Emily is left alone to solve the murder and finish directing the films on the precipitous cliffs despite vicious agents and a murderer who continues slashing members of the cast. Time is running out and Emily is brought ever closer to the edge of ruin and to the edge of death itself.
Irene Fleming's The Edge of Ruin transported me back in time to the tumultuous, cutthroat world of the silent film industry. Imprisoned within the pages of her novel, I felt utterly spellbound as mysterious events quickly unfolded. The under-appreciated Emily is forced to risk everything she has to help her husband realize his dream of becoming an independent film director. Her life is constantly in peril. However, unlike the damsels in the silent films who were tied to railroad tracks and rescued by Canadian Mounties, Emily, an extremely intelligent and brave woman, must rely on her own instincts and resources. In the end, only she can defend herself against the insane murderer who is terrorizing Melpomene Moving Pictures.
The Edge of Ruin is a classic whodunit that kept me up late at night, glued to the edge of my La-Z-Boy Recliner. Emily Weiss is a heroine whom we can all admire. Brave, innovative, and intelligent, she dons a disguise and sneaks into an apartment to gather information on a ruthless Pinkerton agent. On several occasions, she is punched and kicked by large, brawny men; however, she continues in her relentless pursuit to exonerate her husband, a primping dandy. Emily's plans to complete the films are constantly thwarted by innumerable villains, which include an unknown killer, Pinkerton agents and the legendary inventor Thomas Alva Edison.
Though Edison doesn't make an actual appearance, he is depicted as an evil, vicious man because of his monopoly on the film industry and the army of Pinkerton agents he controls. These hooligans scour New York City and its environs, harassing and destroying independent film makers. Not only is he the inventor of the light bulb, but Edison, known as the Wizard of Menlo Park, also invented the electric chair. Ironically, if convicted of murder, Adam will be transported to Trenton, New Jersey where he will be electrocuted. Edison is reported to have electrocuted numerous dogs and cats and even an elephant. He is spoken about in whispers; some say he never sleeps but is constantly at work in his laboratory like some mad scientist.
Irene Fleming paints a beautiful black-and-white portrait of a very young New York City. Mohawk Indians are helping to expand the city outward and upward with mammoth bridges and mountainous skyscrapers. Immigrants are constantly pouring through Ellis Island, looking for jobs. Labor unions are battling with management; there are violent, explosive skirmishes that result in many people dying. Various characters from Fleming's novel were once involved in these disputes. There are also characters who have performed in dance halls and opera houses throughout the world, including the multi-talented Emily.
Not only is The Edge of Ruin suspenseful, but it is also quite humorous. Emily reminds me of my mom; she is always jumping to conclusions. If someone reaches into their pocket to grab a pencil, Emily assumes they are pulling out a gun to shoot her. If she sees a photograph of a young starlet in bed with some unknown man, she automatically assumes he is her husband, Adam. She often fantasizes about slapping or strangling one particular actress, Fay Winningly, who is notorious for bed hopping. Also, Emily has a fear of heights, which proves both hilarious and frightening.
The Edge of Ruin is a must read for those who enjoy historical mysteries and old-fashioned, Agatha Christie-like whodunits. For a few hours, the reader can safely escape into a romantic, suspenseful, sometimes hilarious, slice of New York City history. A silent film buff, Irene Fleming has an ancestor who was convicted during the infamous Salem witch trials. Writing as Kate Gallison, she has written numerous novels of suspense including the best-selling Mother Lavinia Grey Mysteries. The Edge of Ruin is the debut in her latest series. I look forward to future installments. Other historical mysteries that I highly recommend are Charles Todd's A Duty to the Dead and Simon Tolkien's The Inheritance.