Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Mrs. Sherlock Holmes: The True Story of New York City's Greatest Female Detective and the 1917 Missing Girl Case That Captivated a Nation by Brad Ricca

Every once in a while, publishers send me a book that you my readers might be interested in seeing discussed in my blog. I try to oblige and because what they send is pretty interesting. Around Christmas time, St. Martin's Press sent me Mrs. Sherlock Holmes, a true life story of crime and poverty and the struggle for social reform, in fact all sorts of things. I misplaced the book and so I'm only getting around to reviewing it now – apologies.
Brad Ricca studies and teaches literature, and has a particular interest in superhero comic books. My guess is that Batman is one of his favourites, because gritty is the word you do want to use when discussing Mrs. Sherlock Holmes some, whose real name was Mrs. Grace Humiston. A female lawyer in early 20th century New York, she would have had lots to say to the Caped Crusader. She could've pointed out who the villains were and what might be done about them.
Humiston as a pioneering female lawyer in New York had personal experience of women's contributions being dismissed or undervalued from her own career. Not for her in a normal position in the normal law firm. She made herself available instead to the hopeless cases, men and women both who were so poor and socially isolated that they just got crunched up in the wheels of the legal profession and the courts. Humiston used her own resources and wits, and the help of a few collaborators, to do a better job for these people than establish authority ever would. This led her to be eventually labelled "Mrs. Sherlock Holmes" by a newspaper, but it also attracted criticism. Humiston had no patience with people who shirk their duty and her criticism of the New York Police Department alienated many ofthe cops.
The most famous case was the disappearance of Ruth Kruger, an 18-year-old girl. The police wanted to close the case unsolved, as just another "wayward girl" meeting her inevitable fate. But Humiston was pretty sure this was not the case. In fact Ruth was "just another" case of a different sort, Humiston was sure, a case of sexual predators kidnapping and enslaving girls who had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Where the police saw crowds of wayward girls, Humiston saw a network that in an organized fashion swept girls into an underworld that most people wanted to forget about. Humiston went from trying to address individual cases of injustice to aligning herself with the widespread reform movement of the time. One of the causes dear to that reform movement was of course the abolition of "white slavery." Humiston's efforts to find Ruth and rescue other girls in trouble led her to become an internationally known figure, both praised and criticized for her tireless pursuit of Ruth's case and others.
Ruth was eventually found – not in some brothel, but in a hole in the ground underneath the neighbourhood bicycle shop. Ruth had not been taken in by the white slavery network – which certainly did exist – but by a man who knew her personally.
One of the best parts of this book is the way the Ricca's prose reflects the newspaper and the official records of the time. This book will be really appreciated by people who want to immerse themselves in the era of World War I and the dangerous and disorderly cities of the time.

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