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The Jazz Bird
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The Jazz Bird

3.7 4
by Craig Holden

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An exquisitely written novel of love and betrayal, of money and power, set at the apex of that time of glitz and innocence known as the Jazz Age


Lawyer George Remus became the country's biggest bootlegger, grossing over $80 million until his arrest. Upon his release from prison, he learns that his beautiful wife, Imogene, has left


An exquisitely written novel of love and betrayal, of money and power, set at the apex of that time of glitz and innocence known as the Jazz Age


Lawyer George Remus became the country's biggest bootlegger, grossing over $80 million until his arrest. Upon his release from prison, he learns that his beautiful wife, Imogene, has left him and that his bank accounts are empty. On the morning of their divorce, he runs her car off the road in the middle of rush hour in Eden Park and shoots her to death.

Shocked and fascinated by this horrible crime, the country gears up for a sensational trial pitting the man known as ""the king of the bootleggers"" against Chief Prosecutor Charlie Taft, the youngest son of the former president. The trial is a national spectacle, a lens focused on the fabulous rise and fall of the Remus empire and the tragic love story within it, and an attempt to answer some tantalizing questions: What actually happened to the fortune? What are the motives of the federal agent who brought Remus down? What complex emotions and desires, leading ultimately to the ruin of three men, really lie within the heart of the woman known as the Jazz Bird?

Based on a true story, The Jazz Bird is at once a love story, a crime novel, and the tale of the courtroom battle between two powerful men whose respective futures hang in the balance.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A striking, meticulously evoked Jazz Age saga that holds its own with the prose of F. Scott Fitzgerald and John O'Hara.... The novel is quite a departure from Holden's previous gritty contemporary thrillers...save for one key aspect: the care with which he crafts his characters." — Los Angeles Times

"Haunting and beautiful." — People

"Part historical thriller, part courtroom drama, part love story, it's a book that begs a single-sitting read." — Time Out

"The Jazz Bird sings an intriguing melody to which you can't help but succumb." — Detroit Free Press

"Assiduous research combines with racy dialogue, intriguing characters and, best of all, a story that is reluctant to impart the facts until it absolutely has to — in other words, a stylish, sizzling page-turner." — The New Zealand Herald

"Outstanding." — Publishers Weekly

"A tour de force from a writer who gets better with every novel." — Amazon.com

The Barnes & Noble Review
Few writers in recent years have garnered as much praise as Craig Holden, the superb novelist of the harrowing thriller The River Sorrow and the riveting police procedural Four Corners of Night. From The New York Times to The Washington Post and from bestselling authors as diverse as Robert B. Parker and Michael Ondaatje, the critics are unanimous: Holden is a voice to be reckoned with.

The Jazz Bird, Holden's fourth novel -- and his first foray into the genre of historical fiction -- is a brilliantly executed, character-driven page-turner set amid the glamour and turbulence of the 1920s. Based on actual events, it revolves around a popular Al Capone–like Cincinnati bootlegger, George Remus, who brutally guns down his sexy, blue-blooded wife, Imogene, on the day of their divorce. Minutes later, Remus turns himself into the police and confesses to the murder.

Cut-and-dried, right? Maybe not. Remus pleads not guilty. "What I did was justified," he says, "and that shall be my defense. Morally justified homicide." Enter Chief Prosecutor Charlie Taft, a hotshot lawyer who is the youngest son of former president and Supreme Court justice William Howard Taft. Riddled with self-doubt and having a lot to prove, Charlie knows that the case against Remus is going to be a circus for the press and that if he fails to get a conviction, he can kiss his political ambitions goodbye. A fiery court battle ensues, against a backdrop of high society and Prohibition's alluring and dangerous underworld. Soon, Charlie and the public begin to realize that the angel-voiced Imogene -- the Jazz Bird -- may not have been as innocent as first thought.

Atmospheric, taut, and populated by wonderfully drawn characters, The Jazz Bird will undoubtedly draw comparisons to E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Is it that good? Well, not quite. But if Holden's writing doesn't equal the range of these two masters, his book is, on it's own, a work of pure beauty -- a literary thriller that enchants you, seduces you, and ultimately scratches at your skin. This is, by far, Holden's best work yet. (Stephen Bloom)

This novel, based on real-life events, opens in 1927, when infamous bootlegger George Remus guns down his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Imogene, on a city street with witnesses all around. Put on trial by prosecutor Charles Taft (son of the former president), Remus claims insanity as his defense. Crazy or not, he turns out to have had plenty to be angry about: The trial reveals that Imogene had taken up with federal agent Frank Dodge while Remus had been serving a two-year jail sentence. Imogene and Frank conspired to take Remus' business for themselves, trying to get Remus deported to Germany. Holden's novel features a series of flashbacks into the passionate, troubled stories of the trial's participants. Although the book is purportedly about the glamorous rich-girl-gone-bad Imogene (the book's title is her nickname), the reader is never really allowed inside her troubled head. Holden keeps both her and the larger-than-life Remus at a remove. Considering what a tawdry tale Holden has here, the book is awfully antiseptic. It's easy to read, but it's not the kind of novel you would recommend to anyone else or be likely to remember much of the next day.
—Chris Barsanti

Publishers Weekly
With a gruff, streetwise voice that would make a perfect narrator for any good film noir, veteran reader and Tony Award-winning performer of the Broadway show Contact, Gaines does a fine job of capturing the hep, sassy world of the 1920s that Holden (Four Corners of Night) so precisely evokes in this tautly rendered tale of bootlegging and betrayal. As the story of whiskey baron George Remus and the murder of his wife, Imogene, progresses with several twists and layers of detail, Gaines dives into the daunting assignment of giving the wide array of characters personal, often subtle touches to distinguish them in listeners' minds. From the blunt, gravelly intonation of Remus's strongman to the delicate lilt given to Imogene (known among Cincinnati society as the Jazz Bird), Gaines demonstrates both range and a skill for consistency. During one particularly challenging scene, he changes character numerous times as the story weaves between narration and the voices of various prospective jurors. Despite the book's title and time period, the recording is exceedingly spare in production, and listeners might have expected to hear some lightly fanned cymbals and silky horn arrangements. But given Holden's intriguing story and Gaines's pitch-perfect presentation, there's really no need for anything more. Based on the S&S hardcover. (Jan.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
$80 million during Prohibition as the biggest bootlegger in the country (possibly the world). Along the way he made some very interesting friends and married Imogene, a beautiful society woman. When George is released from prison on bootlegging charges, he learns that his wife is leaving him and the fortune is gone. On the morning when the divorce becomes final, he shoots Imogene to death in the middle of rush hour. The year is 1927, and George's trial to determine his guilt or innocence by reason of insanity is about to get underway in Cincinnati. The national spotlight focuses on his past empire and the spectacular death of his gorgeous wife, whose nickname was the Jazz Bird. The story seems to have everything: crime, love, jazz, and a courtroom drama featuring Charlie Taft, youngest son of the former president. Sadly, the tale is very choppy and hard to follow, with the past and present intertwined in a way that is puzzling rather than exciting. Narrator Boyd Gaines makes the listening experience even more bewildering with his flat, uninflected voice. A production that could have been great but, alas, isn't. Not recommended.-Barbara Valle, El Paso P.L., TX Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A consistently interesting fictionalized version of a real-life Jazz Age crime. After shooting his wife, George Remus, a.k.a. King of the Bootleggers, goes directly to the nearest police station and turns himself in, at which point the question becomes, of course, not who but why-and would he get away with it? The time was 1927, October 6, to be exact, the day when beautiful Imogene Ring Remus and her flamboyant husband were to bring a legal end to their puzzling, odd-couple marriage: until George ended it his way. Inevitably, when the trial began at last, the Cincinnati newspapers called it the "Trial of the Century," and certainly the requisite ingredients were there: murder, lust, endless betrayals, an exquisitely complex love triangle (enmeshed in it was Special Agent Frank Dodge, a star of J. Edgar Hoover's freshly minted investigative body, while Ohio's Chief Prosecutor was Charlie Taft, son of the former president), a lost, strayed, or stolen treasure, and enough headline-hunting principals to keep the Speed-Graphics boys popping flashbulbs to a fare-thee-well. Soon enough, the Defense made its strategy clear: not guilty by reason of insanity. But that strategy came only after Remus, a busy member of the Cincinnati bar in his pre-rum-running days, decided to let wiser friends prevail and backed away from his original chest-thumping stand that "Remus's lawyer shall be Remus" and accepted the hard-nosed, high-profile Carl Elston as co-counsel. The courtroom battle was finally joined, the tides sweeping back and forth until the very day of the verdict-which, when it came, came fast: in 15 minutes. A little long and a little slow, but with a Gatsby-like quality that lifts it way abovethe average. Once again, Holden (Four Corners of the Night, 1999, etc.) proves he can do the job. Author tour

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Prologue: Out of Eden

He found himself on the grass of a great dewy meadow surrounded by trees and violent outcroppings of rock and the high clear sky. It was October, he knew. It was 1927. The sharp air of the morning burned in his nostrils. He felt as if he had just awakened from a long and exhausting dream. Or been born. He breathed carefully and looked around and, realizing that he was alone, began to walk. The dew wetted his shoes.

Ahead, down a short slope, he saw a road they had driven many times. He came to it and stepped into it. A motorcar approached. He waved but it veered around him, its throaty electric horn blaring and distorting and fading as it went. The wind it generated whipped about him, spinning dirt into his eyes and chilling his wet feet and lower legs. He stepped back to the berm.

Other cars came. One finally slowed, and stopped. The driver leaned across. "Mr. Remus?" he said. "Is that you? Is everything all right?"

Remus got in. It was a Packard, a runner's car. Those big old, good old twin-sixes, heated up and retrofitted with extra water and gas and oil tanks and limo springs to bear the load of thirty cases of Remus's best, unpacked and hand-wrapped in newspaper, and stacked in where the backseat had been removed. They could cruise at ninety nonstop all the way from Cinci to Chi.

The man looked at him and waited. He was supposed to say where, he remembered. He was supposed to remember this man. He found that he could remember very little.

"The station," he said to the man he did not remember, who had stopped in Eden Park.

There was blood, after all. He hadn't noticed it before. A single shining spot of it on his trousers, near the zipper, over the region of his testicles. A round globule, thick in its relief, just beginning to coagulate. His suit was a good hard worsted, which is why it hadn't soaked in but sat there, beaded. He hadn't gotten any other blood on himself, that he'd seen anyway. It didn't matter. His fingers felt hot. He pressed the nails to his nose and inhaled and smelled the cordite, the back-blow, the burn there. Then he remembered and reached into the right pocket of his suit coat and found it, its barrel warm still. He wondered if it had burned a hole in the fabric.

Below them, the city lay in perfect definition in its basin against the river. So often it was shrouded, in cloud, in smoke, in haze, but today it showed itself, as if to make some point he couldn't quite grasp. They crossed the small pretty bridge and drove toward the edge of the park, through heavy trees just beginning to show their autumnal color. The trees too needed to display their vibrancy to him, to rub it in. We are so beautiful, they seemed to say. And alive.

The road held on to the lip of the cliff, high above the shining river and Kentucky beyond that, then came steeply down Mount Adams. They passed the reservoir and sped into the basin. He had emerged from one dream but suspected now that he had awakened into another. And that this was the one from which perhaps he would never escape.

As if it were some bizarre tour, the driver, this man he apparently knew, proceeded to take him past all the old places: Marcus's Front Street garage, the old lawyer Ring's office brownstone up the Eastern Row, then over to Race, within view of the dark building at the corner of Pearl. Where were they going? They'd already passed the Second District Station on Broadway. That would have done. Remus said nothing. He understood: it was a tour for his benefit. The driver must have known. (Soon they would all know. Everyone would know.) The driver knew, and he had passed his own sentence and was now administering it — you must look, the sentence read. You must remember it all as it happened and is happening and will happen together at once and in perpetuity. He watched it all unfold, the past in the present, here in Cincinnati and before that long ago in Chicago. It all seemed to be happening, still, though he was beginning to realize now that it was over.

Men and women hurried in and out. The great engines sat hidden inside the building but their exhalations rose in white clouds from high vents into the fine morning air. The man Remus did not remember pulled his Packard up to the arched doors. At the station. The depot. The Dixie Terminal.

Remus began to laugh. The man looked at him.

"I'm sorry," Remus said. "I'm sorry. I meant — no, no. This is fine. I thank you so very much."

"Sure thing, Mr. Remus. Anything for you, sir."

When the man pulled away, Remus waved at a cab. As he did, he put his other hand into his jacket pocket and felt the hammer, the mother-of-pearl handle, the now-cool barrel. Without looking, he removed it. It fit almost entirely within his hand. He dropped it into the trash receptacle on the curb.

"This is the wrong station, you see," Remus began, when he got in the new machine. "The authorities — "

The driver glanced back at him.

"The police station," said Remus. "Take me there."

Copyright © 2002 by Craig Holden

Meet the Author

Craig Holden is the author of four previous novels: The Jazz Bird, The River Sorrow, The Last Sanctuary, and Four Corners of Night. He lives in Michigan.

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Jazz Bird 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
BookmavenDB More than 1 year ago
Keeping in mind that this is historical fiction (especially regarding the female protagonist), it is well written and offers a look into Cincinnati's place in bootlegging during prohibition. To a curious reader, it will lead to further investigation into the true story of George Remus and his activities as the King of Bootleggers. It was eagerly discussed in our book club where we were able to have a guest speaker well versed in the actual history of George Remus and his business dealings, murder trial and final days.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a book club selection and I enjoyed it. Interesting look at the bootlegging business and society in the 20s as well as an interesting look at the justice system of the time. The Remus trial was the "trial of the century", at least in the southern Ohio, northern KY area, and this book brought that to life.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In October 1927 in Cincinnati, bootlegger George Remus kills his beloved spouse Imogene, known by all as THE JAZZ BIRD. Immediately following the homicide, George goes back to his specially modified Packard, but his misunderstood rambling leads his driver to take him back to his home in Eden Park. Afterward, a stupefied George grabs a cab and goes to the police station to turn himself in for killing his wife.

Prosecutor Charlie Taft is assigned the case of a lifetime. Already in the limelight due to the pedigree of his father, the only person to have served as president and Supreme Court chief justice, Charlie believes this case is his big break to the national game though the culprit copping a plea of insanity somewhat muddies the water. As Charlie begins to sift through the evidence and gain a complete picture of George and Imogene, he wonders whether the former¿s feelings of deep betrayal from a three-year-old incident led to a calculated homicide?

THE JAZZ BIRD is a legal thriller based on a real case. The engaging story line is exciting with the trial filled with twists and the key characters (Mr. and Mrs. Remus and Taft) quite fascinating as readers see beyond their public masks to the real person. Along with fans of legal thrillers, the historical fiction (the Jazz era comes vividly alive) audience will agree that Craig Holden has written a fabulous novel that requires time for a one sitting read.

Harriet Klausner