The Edge of Ruin Review
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Today’s movie industry often seems like a tangled web of politics, scandal, and backstabbing. But, believe it or not, it’s nothing compared to the industry’s early days, when Thomas Edison controlled the business, and anyone daring enough to operate outside his Trust—like Adam and Emily Weiss in Irene Fleming’s The Edge of Ruin—did so under constant threat.

One afternoon in 1909, Adam Weiss, the wealthy owner of a chain of nickelodeons in Philadelphia, announced to his new bride, Emily, that they were going to sell everything, move to New York, and become independent movie producers. In fact, he’d already signed the deal with investor Howard Kazanow. Within the month, they’d produce four one-reel films—or they’d lose everything.

Eager to get started, Adam moves Emily into the posh Knickerbocker Hotel in Manhattan, and they begin making arrangements. Emily handles casting and costumes, while Adam writes the scenarios and finds the equipment. But they soon discover that an independent producer’s job goes beyond making the movies. They also have to make sure that Edison and his men don’t sabotage them.

  
 
The team from the newly-formed Melpomene Moving Pictures Studios heads out of the city, hiding from Edison’s thugs—and it seems as though they might even meet their deadline. But then a detective is killed on the set, and Adam’s arrested—and it’s up to Emily to find the real killer, clear Adam’s name, and finish their four movies.

The first installment in the new Emily Weiss series, The Edge of Ruin has all of the politics, scandal, and backstabbing of a modern-day tabloid, mixed with plenty of history—and a little bit of mystery, too. Movie lovers and history buffs alike will love the story’s setting—in the early days of the movie biz, when Edison’s army of detectives seemed to be hiding around every corner in New York, eager to destroy the competition. Fleming’s liberal season of historical tidbits keeps things interesting, touching on everything from stage productions and the early filmmaking process to labor disputes and the watchful Pinkertons.

The characters, too, add some personality to the story. Among the Melpomene cast and crew, you’ll find a pair Mohawk steel workers, a drunken stage actor, a Russian diva, and a variety of amusing extras, collected from around the set.

Emily, however, is a bit bland. At first, she doesn’t seem like she’ll be a likable character at all—just a spoiled rich woman who’s been forced to give up her maid and her fur coats—yet she turns out to be a strong and determined heroine. She can solve crimes and write movies at the same time—even if it’s only out of desperation. Still, her only real character trait is her fear of heights, which isn’t all that interesting. She shows plenty of promise, though, so I’m hoping that Fleming will give her some more personality in upcoming installments—maybe exploring her past as an actress.

Adam, on the other hand, could use a total overhaul. Though his chauvinism is understandable for the time period, his total disregard for Emily’s feelings—and his lack of respect for everything she does—makes him a difficult character to like. It’s a good thing, then, that he spends most of the book behind bars.

Though upcoming additions to the series could use a few adjustments, the historical setting of The Edge of Ruin makes it a light and enjoyable mystery—and I look forward to seeing what will happen to the Melpomene crew next.

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