Title: The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired ‘Chicago’
Author: Douglas Perry
Genre: Narrative nonfiction
Acquired: From the publisher for review consideration.
One Sentence Summary: An intrepid girl reporter changed the face of crime reporting in Chicago a “bloody, sex-charged spring and summer at the height of Prohibition” by telling the stories of the beautiful female killers in Cook County Jail.
One Sentence Review: The Girls of Murder City was a perfect nonfiction beach read — entertaining, educational, and relevant to the world today.
Why I Read It: An intrepid girl reporter meets true crime in the 1920s? That’s right up my alley.
Long Review: There’s almost nothing I love better than a great nonfiction read that tells the true story behind an event or time that has become so warped by tellings and retellings that it’s hard to separate the myth from the truth. The subject of Douglas Perry’s book The Girls of Murder City is one such event — the murderesses of Chicago in the 1920s who have since been satirized and mythologized through a play turned musical turned movie.
The real girls of murder city were “Stylish Belva” Gaertner and “Beautiful Beulah” Annan, both accused of murdering their lovers within months of each other during on summer in Chicago. While female murderers weren’t new, there’s two managed to capture the imagination of Chicago, in part thanks to the clever reporting of a newbie courts reporter, Maurine Watkins. Throughout both trials, Watkins biting style brought to life the sensational atmosphere and spiraling feeling of life at the time.
I read The Girls of Murder City during my 4th of July holiday at the lake, and it was an absolutely perfect beach read. Perry does a fantastic job of capturing the many different pieces of this story, which history has shown to be one people seem to be drawn to. I was especially fascinated by Watkins, a shy new reporter who really found her niche and style as an astute observer of the women on trial and the media circus that developed around them. It’s only because of Watkins reporting that the play turned musical ever took off, which is so interesting to me.
The 1920s are such a great decade to read about, and a great-written book set in that time never ceases to draw me in. The rampant disregard for Prohibition laws, and the sense of anarchy they caused is hard to look away from. Perry’s details about the time and what it was like in Chicago at the time were addicting (and especially fun to read with a drink in hand!). If you’ve got a vacation in your future, you won’t grab a much better nonfiction beach read than The Girls of Murder City.
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