Back in 1914, Otto Koehler, a successful entrepreneur and President of the San Antonio Brewing Association/Pearl Brewing Company is murdered by Emma B., his mistress. Also at the scene of the murder is Emma D., his ex mistress. Both women were nurses to Otto’s wife Emma Koehler, who had accepted her husband’s indiscretions after a car accident left her in a wheelchair. Otto’s wife cared less about her loveless marriage than the thriving brewery business she helped build. She ignored the affairs in exchange for power in the company.
We’re transported to 1943 and World War II is in full force. Young, smart and heartbroken Mabel Hartley responds to a job advertisement and is selected to travel to San Antonio to document the memoirs of a now aged and sick Emma Koehler. Mabel quickly learns that Emma is one amazing woman. At a time when women couldn’t vote, Emma Koehler was running the most successful company in the state of Texas. Her business sense and leadership skills would be impressive in any time period but this feisty woman kept the business growing long after her husband’s murder – through Prohibition and beyond. Emma’s incredible story inspires Mabel, who is dealing with many disappointments in her life.
The First Emma is an interesting, fast-paced work of historical fiction. It is based on a true person (Emma Koehler) and the author utilizes a fictional character (Mabel) to help tell the story. The murder of Otto actually took place – the sensational trial is not the focus of the book but is creatively told through news clippings. It is the friendship that evolves between the hard-edged Emma and the vulnerable Mabel that is at the heart of the story. You’ll find yourself googling the history of Emma Koehler to learn more.
Many thanks to NetGalley, Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing and Camille Di Maio for an advance copy of this enjoyable book.
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Rated 4 out of 5 stars.
Publication Date: May 5, 2020.