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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers who Inspired Chicago - Douglas Perry, Peter Berkrot This book is nonfiction history that reports on a time in 1924-25 Chicago when the mutually reinforced interplay between news about several alleged murderesses and intense competition among the local newspapers combined to fire up public interest to an absurdly passionate level. The book then finishes the story by following Maurine Watkins, a reporter at the trials, as she go on to write a satirical comic drama based on what she had witnessed. Her stage play was performed on Broadway and had a long and successful run. This same drama was many years later (after Watkins' death) adapted into the musical Chicago and then into a 2002 movie of the same name that won six of its twelve Oscar nominations.

I was surprised that a book with such a colorful subtitle could be nonfiction. The narration within the book is equally colorful which is surprising given that it's nonfiction. Then it dawned on me what the author was doing. He was repeating some of the colorful writing that was published in the Chicago newspapers at the time. They were reporting on the story of an unusually large number of women who had been charged with murdering men. An important part of the story was how physically attractive these women were.

In those days only men served on juries, and there was a long running tradition in Chicago of male juries refusing to convict women for murder if they were pretty. I might also add that juries were willing to convict females if they were negroes or immigrants that couldn’t speak English. But the women in the news at the time were white and pretty, and everybody was in suspense as to whether the juries would be willing to convict them. I’ll let you read the book to find out how the trials ended.

The media event of the trials for the women was somewhat diminished in their later stages when news of the sensational murder of Bobby Franks and the subsequent trial defense of Leopold and Loeb by Clarence Darrow.

This book provides a glimpse into the justice system, journalism and social conditions of the 1920s era in Chicago which were generally worse then than now. However, I must add that journalism was in its heyday at that time. So in terms of importance, newspapers are now ghosts of their former selves.

This book is very well written and utilizes carefully structured timing in its presentation to the reader. It probably deserves five stars based on its writing. But I’m giving it three stars because I’m sort of embarrassed to have read a book with such a salacious title and subtitle.