The Jazz Bird

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 405

Charlie Taft, youngest son of former president William Howard Taft, was Cincinnati’s chief attorney when George Remus forced his wife’s car off a busy highway and shot her to death. These are the historical facts, as is Remus’s confession and his defense claim that he was temporarily insane.

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Craig Holden’s imaginative re-creation follows two interweaving paths. One thread describes Charlie Taft’s investigations into the motives for Remus’s act, and the sensational courtroom battle that followed, with Remus, himself a former lawyer, taking a hand in his own defense, The other narrative, told in flashbacks, relates George Remus’s rise from obscurity to become the nation’s biggest bootlegger, grossing over $80 million per year. It is also the story of the curious courtship and marriage of the older, unmannered Remus and Imogene Ring, the young society belle and daughter of one of Cincinnati’s leading attorneys.

Although the couple’s public relationship scandalized society, following their marriage, most people found it easy to ignore the illegal sources of Remus’s great wealth and his lack of a social pedigree, especially in light of the fact that George and Imogene entertained in a style and at a level beyond the means or imagination of everyone else.

In 1924, George Remus was indicted and spent three years in the federal prison in Atlanta. During his incarceration, he left his business affairs in Imogene’s hands. Upon release, he returned to Cincinnati to find his world had collapsed: His fabulous mansion was empty; his wife refused to see him and requested a divorce, and the fortune he had left in her keeping had mysteriously vanished.

This was the state of affairs on the day George Remus murdered Imogene Remus. These are the historical facts. In The Jazz Bird, however, it is questions of motivation and the mysteries of human relationships that initially draw readers in, then keep them reading, and eventually leave them wondering. What happened to Remus’s fortune? What exactly had Remus and Imogene planned? Were their plans more extensive and far ranging than anyone guessed? What about the rumors of an affair between Imogene and the FBI agent who convicted Remus? Who is to be believed? What was really in Remus’s mind? What was Imogene thinking? What was she planning? Is this a tragic love story or a crime novel? Most readers will conclude it is much more than either.

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