Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Devil's Gentleman

I love my life. I went out to the mailbox today and found three books in it to review. I'm not sure how I got into this position, but somehow I get to do my favorite thing in the whole world, and while I'm not paid for it, I do get supplied for free. I've been struggling with RA for over three years now. In March of 2006, I decided to do something constructive with all of the reading I was doing since I couldn't do much of anything else. Through one bit of luck after another, I have relationships with a few publishers, publicity houses, and blog groups so I get to read a LOT of books. I get to look forward to getting the mail every day, because I never know what might be in it. Some weeks there are no books, but other weeks bring up to nine! It's amazing; I feel so blessed. And I get to share my blessings with others. I pass most of the books on to my library, and occasionally friends and family who I think might enjoy them. I also get to talk about my passion and share it with others. How cool is that? Sometimes I even have contests on my blog to give them away as freebies. Sometimes when I'm fighting pain or stress in my life, a book comes in the mail, and I feel God smiling down at me. This is something I feel like I'm doing right, like I'm on the path He has for me. Who knows? In my senior yearbook, the class prophecy predicted that I would be the book reviewer for the New York Times. This isn't the Gray Lady, but I'm happy with it, and I trust the Lord.

The Devil's Gentleman by Harold Schechter is the story of Roland Molineux, who in 1900 was accused of murdering a woman and attempting to murder another man through poison because of jealousy. Molineux, the son of a Civil War hero, was a profligate who brought nothing but shame to his father's proud name. He lived the high life in New York City at the turn of the 20th century with a mistress, drugs, and lots of money. He worked as a chemist at a paint company, so he had access to the rare poison used in the case. Kathryn Adams died as a result of taking poisoned bromo-seltzer that had been sent to Harry Cornish, the director of the Knickerbocker Athletic Club. Molineux and Cornish had clashed repeatedly at the club, and Molineux eventually resigned in disgust. Another man, Henry Barnet, also died after taking poisoned bromo-seltzer that had been mysteriously sent to him through the mail. Barnet had been a rival for the affections of Molineux's wife Blanche Chesebrough. Molineux was tried in the "trial of the century" and spent time of death row, but the ending is a surprise. I love "trial of the century" books from the late Victorian-early Edwardian period. Trials that shook society and brought the press out as yellow as they could get. This book is one of the best I've read. Schechter manages not to commit the sin that so many authors of these books commits: he doesn't tell you the outcome in the introduction, opening chapter or flap of the book. Suspense is allowed to build. Schechter lays the evidence without bias out for the reader and allows them to come to their own conclusion. The case ended ambiguously, and Schechter offers his opinion, but not until the very end, thank goodness. He includes great detail about other poisoning cases of the day, yellow journalism, and how the old boys club mentality of New York effected the outcome. My only question: why wasn't Molineux tried for Barnet's death and what was found at the autopsy? And one quibble: I like pictures in my non-fiction books, more pictures of the principal characters would have been great. In spite of that, this is a great read, enthralling, well-written, and thoroughly researched.

Starting Monday, I'm running a contest to win a free copy of James Scott Bell's Try Dying. It's a fantastic legal thriller showing the gritty underbelly of LA. You don't want to miss it!


Anonymous said...

The Devil's Gentleman by Harold Schechter sounds like a fantastic read. The mystery and the thrill of your review was obvious. You may also be interested in reading works by author Paul Mark Tag as well. His works are secular, but his plots have an interesting mix of theology, science, and technology. I think Tag and Schechter are simlar enough you might be into them. Reply back if you read them and do a review. I'd love to read the reviews and leave more comments. Thanks

Ruby said...

I think the book looks very interesting, too. I reallt enjoyed reading your blog about it. I'm a mother of two and love to read really good books.