When we think of satisfying mystery stories, we usually think first of fiction; but Monda Halpern has succeeded in crafting a journalistic yet rich narrative of the true story of Alice Edelson and Jack Horwitz, a couple whose tempestuous love affair was cut short by an untimely murder, a spectacular courtroom trial, and, some say, a biased and unfair resolution.
Halpern is a history professor at Western University in Canada, and her meticulous research and cool yet tense style of writing imbue this story with both authority and passion. To gather material for her book, she analyzed hundreds of newspaper articles and conducted dozens of interviews of the two couples’ families and friends, trying to find the forces in the community that drew them together as well as those that mitigated against them. Monda also examined archival photos — many of which are included in the book — of the pair, trying to understand the context in which the murder took place.
In presenting the facts and fleshing them out fully with the humanity of the characters, Halpern delves deeply into the story. Alice Edelson, a Jewish woman married for twenty years and the mother of seven children in Depression-era Canada, met and fell in love with a handsome Jewish married man, Jack Horwitz. By 1931, although she remained married to her husband, Ben, Alice had been openly carrying on her affair with Jack for several years.
One autumn night, Alice, her husband, and Jack got together at the Edelsons’ jewelry store to try to “settle” exactly what was going on in the relationship. But instead of words proving sufficient, a gun appeared, and Jack was shot and killed. A sensational legal battle ensued, in which Ben was accused of shooting and killing Jack.
Alice’s behavior was seen as a shandeh, a shame or disgrace. Though Ben might have been a murderer, Alice was definitely an adulterer.Although Alice had always been treated as a respected member of the Jewish community before, her behavior was now seen as indefensible. She was strongly censured, both in the courtroom and among her friends and family. At the same time, her husband, who was on trial for murder, was looked at as a respectable man who had been betrayed and had suffered greatly. Ultimately, after a long trial that captured the headlines for weeks, Ben was exonerated; Alice, by contrast, remained accused by her community for the rest of her life.
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Linda F. Burghardt is a New York-based journalist and author who has contributed commentary, breaking news, and features to major newspapers across the U.S., in addition to having three non-fiction books published. She writes frequently on Jewish topics and is now serving as Scholar-in-Residence at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County.