When admitted to the New York State Bar in 1905, Mary Grace Quackenbos (later Humiston) was one of only a thousand female lawyers practicing in the entire U.S. Grace oversaw the People's Law Firm, which helped low-income immigrants to New York City with their legal problems. She worked tirelessly for those who were falsely accused and even obtained more than one last-minute stay of execution. In 1907, she uncovered a human trafficking ring that lured Italian immigrants to southern plantations with promises of high wages. The Greenville Times described her efforts, writing, "In other words, she is just raising hell, as is usual with a professional woman." In 1917, she solved the mystery of Ruth Cruger, a young woman whose disappearance had captivated New York City and spurred increased attention to the issue of trafficked girls. Ricca's narrative history bridges legal thrillers and detective stories. Fans of Erik Larson's books will enjoy reading about Grace Humiston's remarkable career in an era when women were still fighting for the right to vote. Copyright 2016 Booklist Reviews.
The author of Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster—The Creators of Superman (2013) returns with the astonishing story of the first female U.S. district attorney.Ricca, an authority on comics and a SAGES fellow at Case Western Reserve University, crafts an express train of a story that follows the career of the woman born Mary Grace Winterton (1869-1948), who had two failed marriages, during which her surname became first Quackenbos and then Humiston (the name she bears through much of the text). Ricca's focus is on her most spectacular case, that of young Ruth Cruger, a recent high school graduate who, in February 1917, disappeared after getting her ice skates sharpened at a neighborhood shop in Harlem. In the early sections of the book, the author artfully—even cinematically—shifts our attention, chapter by chapter, among the Cruger case and some of Humiston's earlier cases, which required staggering amounts of travel and research and even danger for Humiston, who'd earned a law degree but would eventually segue into full-time investigations of the cases that obsessed her. She would also galvanize the newspaper-reading public, making her a celebrity and earning her the name in the book's title. Many cases involved the disappearance and/or abuse of girls and women. Ricca had to rely heavily on newspaper and magazine accounts (there are 45 pages of endnotes) because all the official records of most of her cases were destroyed by accident or intent. Throughout—as he acknowledges near the end—the author breathes life into the narrative by imagining gestures, thoughts, attitudes, and ruminations for his characters. After some very high-profile successes, Humiston's career began to crack when she went after the military near the end of World War I, and she died in virtual obscurity. Rapid, compelling storytelling informed by rigorous research and enlivened by fecund imagination. Copyright Kirkus 2016 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews
On a cold New York day in 1917, 18-year-old Ruth Cruger disappeared on a trip to pick up ice skates. As leads dried up and his frustration with the police grew, her father called in Grace Humiston, a lawyer and detective whose work for women and immigrants had become legendary. Author Ricca's (Super Boys) fascinating account moves between the kidnapping of Cruger in 1917 and the career of Humiston from her law school years in the early 1900s through her defense of impoverished immigrants, her investigation of modern-day slavery, and her appointment as special assistant U.S. district attorney (the first woman in that role). While the police assumed Cruger had eloped, Humiston disagreed, and pursued clues with a single-minded intensity. Her work paid off, but in the process she embarrassed the police department, and various missteps in her later career caused her reputation to dwindle, until today, when she is barely remembered. VERDICT Ricca has parlayed an obscure reference to Mrs. Sherlock Holmes in his earlier research into a spellbinding true crime history that reads like a novel. It will be enjoyed by aficionados of Victorian crime novels as well as true crime fans. [See Prepub Alert, 7/25/16.]—Deirdre Bray Root, MidPointe Lib. Syst., OH. Copyright 2016 Library Journal.
Publishers Weekly Reviews
Ricca (Super Boys) provides a fascinating account of Grace Humiston, a pioneering attorney in the early 20th century, dubbed "Mrs. Sherlock Holmes" by the press for her investigative prowess. The author effectively employs a novelist's techniques to heighten suspense; the first chapter features the discovery of a hole in the floor of a building, the significance of which is not revealed until much later. Ricca then depicts the tragic disappearance, in 1917, of 18-year-old Ruth Cruger, who had left her Manhattan home on an errand. Finally, he introduces Humiston, who in 1905 became one of "only a thousand female lawyers in the whole United States." Her intervention on behalf of a woman convicted of murdering an abuser in New Jersey showcases the intelligence, determination, and savvy that became her hallmark. Humiston's later exploits almost defy belief as she traveled to the South as a Special United States District Attorney to uncover the practice of slavery "through forced debt," an inquiry that came to the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt. Ultimately, Humiston gets involved in the search for Ruth Cruger, succeeding where so many others had failed. Her incredible life story, superbly portrayed by Ricca, is more proof that truth is stranger than fiction. (Jan.) Copyright 2016 Publisher Weekly.
School Library Journal Reviews
In 1917, an 18-year-old went missing in broad daylight. In 1905, a newly minted female lawyer took on a seemingly impossible case and won. Alternating between Ruth Cruger's 1917 disappearance and earlier cases, Ricca's vividly written narrative brings to life the groundbreaking work of attorney Mary Grace Quackenbos Humiston, who championed the rights of immigrants, the poor, and young girls. She often successfully made appeals to overturn wrongful convictions, saving several people from execution at the last minute. As a detective, she took on cases, such as Cruger's, that the police had abandoned, becoming the first female U.S. district attorney and, later, a special investigator with the New York Police Department. Though this is a thoroughly researched example of nonfiction, with extensive notes and bibliography, Ricca's storytelling ability easily allows readers to forget they are reading history instead of a novel. The descriptions of Humiston's work, with its tension and danger, offer a fascinating window on daily life and policing in New York in the early 20th century, and many of the causes she backed remain current social problems.