The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers who Inspired Chicago – Douglas Perry

•March 27, 2017 • Leave a Comment

the girls of murder city

Synopsis

The true story of the murderesses who became media sensations and inspired the musical Chicago

Chicago, 1924.

There was nothing surprising about men turning up dead in the Second City. Life was cheaper than a quart of illicit gin in the gangland capital of the world. But two murders that spring were special – worthy of celebration. So believed Maurine Watkins, a wanna-be playwright and a “girl reporter” for the Chicago Tribune, the city’s “hanging paper.” 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.

My Thoughts

(Disclaimer – I read this book a few years ago, but never reviewed it, so, after reading it for a second time, here we go!)

Months, even years, before the Janet Smith murder rocked Vancouver with its twisted details and sensationalist journalism, there was Chicago. Chicago in the roaring twenties is the heart of flash, glam, guts, and gore. Where there’s booze, there’s blood. The things that occurred during this time seem too outrageous to be true. And yet, for everyone involved, it was all too real.

As a massive fan of the musical Chicago, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book!! Douglas Perry has researched every minute detail of the lives of the women who inspired first a stage play, then two films, and finally, the musical. His hard work has most certainly paid off. From the murderesses themselves, to their lawyers, and even the journalists covering the case, Perry’s research is factual and exhaustive. I’ll certainly be checking out some of his sources to add to my book collection!

This book is fascinating in that it doesn’t dryly relay the events – it explores every angle. Readers are privy to the opinions of the journalists covering the cases. We learn about the lives of the prosecutors. In a very real way, we, ourselves, are involved in the goings on of Murderess Row at the Cook County Jail.

It’s very eye-opening to see the overlap of real events, in comparison to the plot line of the musical adaptation. Not only did these women get away with murder, they felt completely entitled to their freedom – despite having taken a life. They truly did not believe that they had done anything wrong! (The Cell Block Tango has been playing on repeat for half an hour, just to drive this point home to me.)

We see many of these events reiterated to us through the journalistic tactics of the Chicago Tribune‘s whipper snapper crime reporter Maurine Watkins – a no-nonsense, satirical writer. She never held back her opinions – she knew these women were getting away with murder, and never once let her disgust slide. The incredible ridiculousness of the situation is what led her to penning the stage play, inspired by the events of the trial of Beulah Annan. Oh, how I would have loved to witness the original play!

Chicago in the 1920s was a city in full-swing party mode. The war is over, soldiers are back, and it’s time to celebrate! This is the atmosphere of the city – a city with little to no remorse for its less than legal activities.

The Girls of Murder City offers a very interesting insight into the infamous gunner girls who inspired plays, movies, and musicals with their antics and cases. What feels like the fictional events of a sensational film noire are things that really transpired. And that, in my opinion, is the greatest appeal and fascination of the era known as the roaring twenties.

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Who Killed Janet Smith? – Ed Starkins

•March 22, 2017 • Leave a Comment

who killed janet smith

Synopsis

“Who Killed Janet Smith?” examines one of the most infamous and still unsolved murder cases in Canadian history: the 1924 murder of twenty-two-year-old Scottish nursemaid Janet Smith. Originally published in 1984, and out of print for over a decade, this tale of intrigue, racism, privilege, and corruption in high places is a true-crime recreation that reads like a complex thriller.

My Thoughts

While the description of the book states that it reads like a complex thriller, I felt more like I was reading a satirical parody of policing. I have  no idea how these individuals got away with bumbling an investigation so epically. The only explanation that makes sense to me is a total lack of care for the victim, but that’s just conjecture on my part. However, I should note that a few individuals were reprimanded for their actions, or lack thereof, in the course of the investigations into Janet Smith’s murder. A few individuals even lost their jobs, while others fell from social and political grace. Had the case been properly handled, such extremes may not have been necessary.

There were so many individuals involved in the murder investigations of Janet Smith – the victim herself, most notably, ended up taking a back seat to everyone else. While the case is, indeed, complex, and at times quite thrilling, it’s not because of the case itself, but rather because of how the case was handled, or mishandled. It would seem, at least to me, that investigators and journalists alike didn’t particularly care about Janet Smith herself. Rather, they cared about the affluent family she worked for, and how this would affect their social standing and their reputation, as well as the general public perception of the residents of Shaughnessy Heights – where Vancouver’s rich and elite lived.

Starkins phrases it best – “What is most remarkable about the Janet Smith murder case is just how much it reveals of the spirit and sentiment of the 1920s”. This sentiment was rooted in elitism, entitlement, racism, and the notion that money can buy you out of trouble. Sadly, these are things that are still all too relevant today.

Newspapers and magazines latched onto the story of Janet Smith, but it wasn’t because they cared about solving the murder. It was because they wanted to tarnish Vancouver’s elite with rumours and gossip – some of it true, most of it false. Such things led the investigations (there were multiple investigations into Janet Smith’s murder) in all sorts of directions – none of them beneficial to actually finding her killer.

Investigators began targeting Wong Foon Sing, the Chinese houseboy who worked alongside Janet Smith in the household. He was interviewed, kidnapped, beaten, and tortured multiple times for information. The reasoning? He wasn’t white – investigators and political figures were keen on a Chinese man being wrongfully tried and convicted for the murder of Janet Smith in order to put the whole thing behind them. Nary a word was ever said in Wong Foon Sing’s defense. Racism played a key factor in the persecution of Wong Foon Sing .

The investigation stayed focused along these lines – despite most of the investigators knowing that he was innocent, it was easier to wrongfully prosecute a Chinese man than to investigate the rich, elite socialites of Shaughnessy Heights. Investigators are tired, frustrated, and have no evidence due to earlier mishaps and bumblings in the first investigation. The case hits a dead end. And so, the question remains: Who killed Janet Smith?

To this day, Janet Smith’s murder remains unsolved. All we’re left with is speculation and theories as to what actually happened to Janet Smith in July of 1924. While the state of policing has gotten much better since 1924, it cannot be denied that there was much bumbling which may or may not be directly related to being bought off by those who knew the truth about Janet Smith’s death. However, there are some things that still remain the same since those days.

Humans are still left with a morbid fascination with death and murder – we want it, and we crave it. (I know I do, otherwise I wouldn’t read as much true crime as I do.) Sometimes this fascination is beneficial – you learn about the facts of a case, you read and do research, you think critically, and you can glean your own conclusions; you learn about other humans, and why they do the things they do.

Other times, this fascination is derived from scandal and gossip. This was definitely the case in the years following Janet Smith’s murder. Newspapers across Vancouver latched onto gossip and rumours, sensationalizing the case in tabloid-like journalistic tactics. The gossip even made international headlines, watering down actual facts in favour of the glitz and glamour of the rumours. Many people didn’t particularly care about what actually happened to Janet Smith – they cared about the swirling gossip surrounding Vancouver’s elite and affluent.

It would seem that no one is 100% certain as to what happened to Janet Smith. However, two things are blatantly clear: 1) Janet Smith was murdered, and; 2) A lot of money and influence was thrown around to make her murder go away.

We still don’t have an answer to the question of who killed Janet Smith. And that’s what’s most frustrating. We’re left with speculation and theories. This isn’t enough for me. Due to entitlement and elitism in 1924 (entitlement and elitism that is still rampant to this day), one woman will go down as one of Canada’s most infamous unsolved murders. Someone believed themselves to be above the law, and made efforts to get away with murder. This event may have occurred in 1924, but it still remains as a dark spot in Canadian policing history.

The lack of care taken with the Janet Smith case establishes one thing – money and influence are more important than justice. With advances in modern policing and investigation techniques, I can only hope that this statement is not longer true. However, I remain skeptical and critical. The year is now 2017, 93 years since Janet Smith was murdered. In 1924, elitism, entitlement, and racism were rampant in the streets of Vancouver. However, all I have to do is open a newspaper to today’s news to see that public opinion hasn’t changed much. 93 years, and Canadian streets are still full of hate and inequality rooted in ignorance and entitlement. I guess we really haven’t changed much, have we?

Moving Picture Show

•February 16, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Music has been a major influence on my life for as long as I can remember. So, when it presented itself, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see a dear friend of mine, Matt Sellick, perform while backed by the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra. It was an experience I will never forget! Somewhere between his original pieces, an homage to The Beatles, and the ending duel with another guitarist, I got very lost in my own head – due to both overwhelming emotions, and sheer inspiration. (Prepare for emotional overload – this isn’t a review piece, this is a personal exclamation of admiration and respect.)

 

I can see music in my head. Not in notes, chords, keys, or staff notations (otherwise colloquially known as sheet music), but in pictures. I see music like one would see a movie – moving pictures trying to tell a story. On this night, stories were definitely being told – whether the musicians themselves knew it or not. (These stories have now become inspiration for my ongoing anthology project – stay tuned!)

 

The emotions I felt from the entire performance is something I will likely not forget for a very, very long time. It was overwhelming. I’ve known this talented, amazing musician for years, but I’d never heard him quite like this. Over the years, I took for granted how talented Matt is – I’ve been listening to him play, practice, record, and perform in local coffee shops for almost a decade. Nothing could have prepared me for this. With single-minded focus, Matt sucked me into a vortex of sounds, images, and feelings I did not prepare myself for. And that, my friends, is a sign of a passionate musician, keen on perfecting his craft.

 

Matt doesn’t play flamenco guitar for the fame and fortune. No, Matt plays to make the audience feel something – anything. Whatever it is that we feel when listening to his music is completely subjective. Throughout the performance, I ran through so many different emotions and images that my head felt like it was swirling. And that is exactly what makes Matt so good, and so unequivocally talented.

 

Through the bitterness and angst of his first piece, and well into the calming and giddy effects of his second piece, I never stopped feeling something. Most noticeably, I felt the fire and the passion flow through his playing. Fire and passion – two words I would not have used to describe Matt ten years ago. Now, those two words are the most fitting of descriptors – Matt is the embodiment of fire and passion, and his playing is how he shows the world.

 

I feel so lucky, so privileged, to have seen this person grow into himself – I’ve seen, first hand, what driven determination can do. I’ve had a front-row centre seat to the showing of progress, growth, maturity, and success. And I am completely, and utterly, overcome with emotion – I am elated, grateful, excited, and proud to see Matt excell. He’s spent his entire life fine-tuning his craft – and it shows. Matt is a musician whom I respect unconditionally – he’s also a musician whom I adore eternally.

 

No amount of technical musical knowledge can replace the overwhelming and incredible emotionality of Matt’s performance. There is nothing I can say other than this: Matt, it has been an incredible journey you’ve been on – and it’s just beginning. I have been extremely lucky to have been a part of it. I cannot wait to see where you go next, and which new heights you’ll reach. You’ve poured your entire essence into what you do – and you are meant for greatness. Keep playing, keep giving us that passion so many of us are lacking. Keep making us feel what we feel. And, of course, keep kicking musical ass. On to the next adventure. Allons-y!

 

The Dead House – Dawn Kurtagich

•January 31, 2017 • Leave a Comment

the-dead-house

Synopsis

Part-psychological thriller, part-urban legend, this is an unsettling narrative made up of diary entries, interview transcripts, film footage transcripts and medical notes. Twenty-five years ago, Elmbridge High burned down. Three people were killed and one pupil, Carly Johnson, disappeared. Now a diary has been found in the ruins of the school. The diary belongs to Kaitlyn Johnson, Carly’s identical twin sister. But Carly didn’t have a twin . . .

Re-opened police records, psychiatric reports, transcripts of video footage and fragments of diary reveal a web of deceit and intrigue, violence and murder, raising a whole lot more questions than it answers.

Who was Kaitlyn and why did she only appear at night? Did she really exist or was she a figment of a disturbed mind? What were the illicit rituals taking place at the school? And just what did happen at Elmbridge in the events leading up to ‘the Johnson Incident’?

Chilling, creepy and utterly compelling, THE DEAD HOUSE is one of those very special books that finds all the dark places in your imagination, and haunts you long after you’ve finished reading.

My Thoughts

The Dead House threw me. It just… threw me. I did not solve the mysteries of this book by myself – even when I thought I may have figured something out, one tiny detail, I was proven so very wrong. I couldn’t have been any further from the mark.

This book had me grasping at straws, holding my breath, and sitting on the edge of my seat. The creep factor kept me up for a couple days – my mind would just go over the details in constant rotation, trying to see if I’d missed anything. I so wanted to solve it before it all came crashing down!

I’m rather glad that my sleep schedule is so thrown off by my unusual work hours, otherwise I definitely would not have been able to sleep during nighttime hours after reading this book. There is no way I would have been able to turn off the light without being uncomfortable or anxious. Thankfully, I seem to sleep as the sun rises – something Kaitlyn and I have in common.

The format makes for a very interesting, and different, reading experience. It really reminded me of watching a true crime programme, or some sort of found-footage type documentary. We do not have any more information than what is a matter of public record due to criminal investigations and journalism. And I like that – we know as much as anyone else investigating the case, and no one is any closer to solving the weirdness and the mystery of the Johnson Incident.

While chronological, it isn’t a strictly timed narrative – sometimes we jump around and miss some days. But one thing remains constant – something happened at Elmridge, something that can barely be explained, and it seems that no one can solve the mystery.

Right from the start, readers are led to think it’s going to go in a very predictable manner. That sense of comfort is very quickly dismantled, thrown into a ditch, and set on fire. Carly and Kaitlyn are headed for disaster – and those who set them on that course are the most unlikely suspects. The events leading up to the Johnson Incident are intense, bizarre, and extremely unbelievable. And yet – they happened, there is evidence, proof, of what happened.

With a lot of unusual details, and few clues, we’re left with so many more questions than answers by the end of the case. It seems that the investigation isn’t quite over – there are so many people who are morbidly curious. But I highly doubt we’ll ever know the full, and real, truth.

The Dead House is a work of fiction – but it has you believing that the incidents, the case, and the events are completely real. I even did some curious googling while reading, just to ease my own mind. This is a story that has seeped into the depths of my bones. I have a feeling that’s where it’ll stay.

Fragile Eternity – Melissa Marr

•January 26, 2017 • Leave a Comment

fragile-eternity

Synopsis

Seth never expected he would want to settle down with anyone – but that was before Aislinn. She is everything he’d ever dreamed of, and he wants to be with her forever. Forever takes on new meaning, though, when your girlfriend is an immortal faery queen.

Aislinn never expected to rule the very creatures who’d always terrified her – but that was before Keenan. He stole her mortality to make her a monarch, and now she faces challenges and enticements beyond any she’d ever imagined.

In Melissa Marr’s third mesmerizing tale of Faerie, Seth and Aislinn struggle to stay true to themselves and each other in a milieu of shadowy rules and shifting allegiances, where old friends become new enemies and one wrong move could plunge the Earth into chaos.

My Thoughts

As seems to be the pattern, this third book in the series seems to be the game changer. Seth, Ash, and Keenan all have decisions to make. It’s time to stop playing teenager, and take full responsibility for what they are – fart of the feary world.

There is one thing I need to get out of the way immediately – Keenan is not the “good guy”. He is knowingly ruthless, manipulative, conniving, selfish, and disrespectful. Time, and time again he twists things to get what he wants. Part of that is the faery way – they cannot lie. As such, they must find ways to elude the truth, to twist and play words in very deliberate and specific ways. At first, this drove me absolutely crazy – the use of miscommunication as a plot device isn’t my favourite – but I adapted quickly. Because they can’t help it – it is inherent in who they are as entities.

Keenan has a way of getting Ash exactly where he wants her – wanting him just so, but not enough, so he can continue to court his Winter Queen, Donia, for a while longer. Eventually, he will have Ash. And he promises never to harm her – quite literally, harm her physically – but he never desists in harming her both psychologically and emotionally. Ash cannot see this for herself, despite warnings from her loved ones. But she is the Summer Queen, and is both drawn and tied to Keenan eternally.

And it’s the eternally part that sets Seth’s teeth on edge. Seth is the power player in this book. He sees where his future could be headed, and hates how powerless he is. In this book, Seth does everything to take back his life, and his future. He’s made an odd friend in Niall, the Dark King, but it’s an ally that is so very needed, and so very appreciated. I’m enjoying where Seth and Niall’s friendship is headed, and I’m sure there are very interesting things to come.

Ultimately, Seth’s decisions flips everything right around. The world of Faerie is changing – and no one is sure whether it’s for better, or for worse. The only sure thing at the moment is that change is imminent. Whether that be war and chaos, or alliance and peace. Nothing will be the same, and I cannot wait to see the Summer Court fall from its fickle graces.

Dawn’s Early Light – Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris

•January 17, 2017 • Leave a Comment

dawns-early-light

Synopsis

Working for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, one sees innumerable technological wonders. But even veteran agents Braun and Books are unprepared for what the electrifying future holds…

After being ignominiously shipped out of England following their participation in the Janus affair, Braun and Books are ready to prove their worth as agents. But what starts as a simple mission in the States—intended to keep them out of trouble—suddenly turns into a scandalous and convoluted case that has connections reaching as far as Her Majesty the Queen.

Even with the help of two American agents from the Office of the Supernatural and the Metaphysical, Braun and Books have their work cut out for them as their chief suspect in a rash of nautical and aerial disasters is none other than Thomas Edison. Between the fantastic electric machines of Edison, the eccentricities of MoPO consultant Nikola Tesla, and the mysterious machinations of a new threat known only as the Maestro, they may find themselves in far worse danger than they ever have been in before…

My Thoughts

The third installment of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences changes everything. The continuation is going to be one hell of a ride! Good thing we have a handy motorcar at the ready for the adventure.

Dawn’s Early Light takes our duo across the Atlantic, on quite the adventurous tour of the United States, in order to help their American counterparts solve one hell of a convoluted mystery. Of course, Eliza is never one to pass on the action and adventure – being in the field is what suits her best.

Still the same as ever, she tends to solve her problems with bullets, and fists. I was absolutely giddy when she knocked one particular American cowboy flat on his arse in the middle of a pub (a woman after my own heart, she is). However, emotions are running high.

I recall being very excited at the end of the last book that the romantic undertones between Books and Braun were finally coming to a conclusion. Well, I was wrong. It takes a few thwarted conversations, a few misguided flirtations, and a lot of frustration before Eliza and Wellington see fit to resolve their unspoken feelings for each other. While disarming a bomb. Because when else are you supposed to confess your undying love for your partner?

As we come to our climax and conclusion, everything changes, and everything we thought we knew turns on a dime. There is, undoubtedly, a distinct feeling of being punched in the gut.

The first two books of this series, and a good portion of this third book, do a fantastic job of setting us up for what’s to come. We have fully established the world, the technologies, and how everything works. We’ve meshed technology, science, and clockwork into the mechanics of what keeps this world going. We’ve met our main cast, and we know them very well (with a few mysteries left to solve, but that’s all in the character development).

We are now set for what’s to come – and it’s going to be on hell of a hair-raising adventure. Eliza and Wellington definitely have their work cut out for them.

2016 Reading Roundup

•January 1, 2017 • 1 Comment

Well. This was a year…. and I will leave that at that!

This year, I embarked, once again, on the great educational adventure, and began my studies for a third undergrad degree. While I’ve heard a lot of negativity about yet another undergrad degree, all I have to say is: stuff it. I’m doing this because I want to, and because it will help me get further in a career I kind of stumbled into (almost literally – there was some flailing involved).

Thankfully, this time around, I have a MUCH better grasp of time management, and scheduling. This allows me to both go to school full-time, as well as work full-time. I am pleased with where these two things are bringing me in the future, and I am very, very proud of myself. It’s not easy to pack it in and restart your career path in your mid-twenties. But I’m doing it, and I think I’m doing just fine.

I also accomplished a lot of personal goals, and started a lengthy personal project that I’ve shared snippets of over on ye olde Tumblr. Much of this was thanks to the help of my dearest friend, and platonic life-partner, Sir Sassy Pants (who has asked to remain relatively anonymous, but trust me, the nickname is spot on).

Somewhere between the sassing and the frustrated head-desking, we managed to get through this year together. We even plotted our way into taking over an alternate realm, becoming royalty, and drinking our combined weight in tea and wine while we commiserate and watch anime. It will be brilliant. My husband looked on both fondly, and bemused (then gave me glass upon glass of wine so as not to burn out in an anxious cycle of overthinking and flailing).

Now, onto the books!

My goal for 2016 was to read 50 books. I nearly made it! I read a total of 32 books – 64% of my original goal. Which is absolutely fantastic, compared to previous years! As I said, I’ve become much more skilled in managing my time, and finding time to relax, read, and review. Once again, I am quite proud of myself!

In previous years, I would usually do a run through of my ratings, and what not. I won’t be doing that. Instead, take a look at my Goodreads profile and see for yourselves what I’ve been up to. I can say, with absolute certainty, that Carry On stole the show this year. It is, by far, my favourite read of 2016.

I also started a new series, The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, which has stolen my heart, and my attention. I am so very, very smitten. I never would have considered the series had it not been recommended to me by a dear friend. Ben, if you’re reading this, you are Book Recommendation Royalty. I appreciate your thoughtfulness, and your sheer love and excitement for books! I have a list of everything you’ve ever recommended to me, and I am slowly making my way through! So, thank you! I am ever so grateful to have you as both a friend, and an avid book lover and reader.

Moving onto to 2017, I’ve downsized my goal to 40 books for the year. I feel that, with my academic work load, as well as my employment commitments, this is much more realistic and feasible. I started three different series of books last year, and I plan to get them all caught up to new releases. I also hope to expand my tastes, and try out new things.

I have also amassed a collection of trilogies, thanks to the generous gifts of gift cards from both Chapters and Amazon this year. Hopefully, I’ll be able to tackle a trilogy or two – that would be great fun!

As this year begins, I am optimistic, and energized. I haven’t felt this content in a long time. I’ve made some changes this last year, I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve grown a lot. And I hope that these changes – for the better – are reflected in the year to come.

Here’s to a happy, and safe 2017, dear readers! Cheers!