A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion

It may not have qualified as the crime of the century, but the lurid murder of New York magazine editor Albert Snyder in March 1927 riveted the attention of that city--when the perpetrators went on trial, the courtroom was packed with more than 1,500 spectators. In this vivid, imaginative novel based on that crime, Ron Hansen (Atticus and Mariette in Ecstasy) weaves a story that will appeal to fans of classic mysteries, in the process skillfully evoking the morally compromised atmosphere of Prohibition-era New York. (The Snyder case was the inspiration for Double Indemnity by James M. Cain, which was the basis for Billy Wilder's famous movie.)

When she meets handsome, alcoholic lingerie salesman Henry Judd Gray in June 1925, Ruth Snyder is a bored Queens housewife married to a man 13 years her senior. It doesn't take long for the vain, shallow duo to tumble into a torrid affair. After a few months, Ruth tricks her husband into applying for an insurance policy that will pay double indemnity in the event of a death from other than natural causes.

After Albert Snyder demonstrates a Rasputin-like quality to survive several of Ruth's bungled murder attempts, she urges the weaker Judd to bludgeon her husband, concealing the deed as a burglary. The killing is as inept as the lovers' intensity is strong, and barely a month later, they're on trial, turning on each other with the same alacrity that marked the start of their affair.

Hansen takes pains to present the story as something other than a morality play. As he portrays the era, it was a time when "wealth began to seem available to anyone." Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray were two characters whose tragic flaw was the self-delusion that led them to believe the easy riches of the time were theirs for the taking. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

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