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In 1924, aspiring reporter Maureen Watkins earned a spot on the crime beat at the Chicago Tribune, where she covered the sensational stories of alleged killers Belva Gaertner and Beulah Annan. Gaertner and Annan were just two (although the most famous two) of the women on Murderesses’ Row, a wing that housed pretty young things awaiting trial for killing their husbands or lovers. Watkins’ editor made the most of her sweet temper and sympathetic looks, dispatching her for quotes and interviews that other reporters couldn’t get and it paid off: Watkins’ front-page stories were must-reads, filled with her own voice and style, that she turned into a play called Chicago in 1926. The story of Gaertner and Annan, now immortalized as Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, also inspired a silent film, a Broadway musical, and a movie that earned the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2003.
Nonfiction books can get a little dull, but author Douglas Perry has plenty of spicy material to work with. He seamlessly weaves old newspaper articles, research, quotes, and commentary into a story about our obsession with celebrity murderers, while incorporating the biggest issues of the Jazz age including Prohibition and the rise of feminism. Narrator Peter Berkrot shifts from facts to scandal with an effortlessly smooth reading; Supporting characters including Watkins’ rival reporters, the murderesses’ cuckolded husbands, the murder victims’ widows, and the lawyers who turned the cases into an opportunity for fame get their own individual voices. Berkrot gives Gaertner and Annan readings that show how they walked the line between cold-blooded killers and coquettish young women making The Girls of Murder City a solid listen for history buffs, Law & Order fans, and Broadway lovers alike. Blythe Copeland
Newspaperwomen were supposed to write about clubs, cooking, and clothes, but the intrepid Miss Watkins, a minister's daughter from a small town, zeroed in on murderers instead. Looking for subjects to turn into a play, she would make "Stylish Belva" Gaertner and "Beautiful Beulah" Annan - both of whom had brazenly shot down their lovers - the talk of the town. Love-struck men sent flowers to the jail, and newly emancipated women sent impassioned letters to the newspapers. Soon more than a dozen women preened and strutted on "Murderesses' Row" as they awaited trial, desperate for the same attention that was being lavished on Maurine Watkins's favorites.
In the tradition of Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City and Karen Abbott's Sin in the Second City, Douglas Perry vividly captures Jazz Age Chicago and the sensationalized circus atmosphere that gave rise to the concept of the celebrity criminal. Fueled by rich period detail and enlivened by a cast of characters who seemed destined for the stage, The Girls of Murder City is crackling social history that simultaneously presents the freewheeling spirit of the age and its sober repercussions.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By zoomcity on 07-31-11
Some books should be read
This is a book that I would have liked better if I'd read it instead of listening to it. The pace is very quick and there were so many characters. If you lose your concentration at the wrong time, you'll be rewinding like I did--wait, who is she? If I'd had the photos that are in the book, it would have greatly enhanced the story. I tried to find photos online, on Mr. Perry's site, but I had to go to the library for the full experience. Not all the photos in the book are online.
Still, it's a fun read for fans of Chicago, like me. I wish there weren't two chapters on Leopold and Loeb. I know Maurine Watkins, etc., covered their story, but still...too much.
I'm glad I listened.
8 of 8 people found this review helpful
By Alexis on 06-10-15
This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?
Someone into Chicago's political history
Any additional comments?
I couldn't make it past the past two hours. The narrator was bland and there were way too many historical notes covering up the actual story to enjoy it.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful