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STRONG PASSIONS

A SCANDALOUS DIVORCE IN OLD NEW YORK

Entertaining Victorian courtroom fireworks.

Narratives about rich people behaving badly captivate readers, and this account of a lurid Civil War–era divorce should satisfy all parties.

Former TV producer Weisberg, author of Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism, has no shortage of material because the events in this story involve members of New York society whose sexual misadventures enraptured the media. After setting the scene, the author introduces her subjects: Peter Strong and Mary Stevens, who married in 1853. An apparently normal family life followed until their 14-month-old daughter died of influenza in 1862. Shortly after the funeral, Mary tearfully confessed that she had been having an affair with Peter’s brother. With divorce “unthinkable” in respectable circles, Peter decided to break off all relations but continue to live under the same roof. To complicate matters, within weeks Mary revealed that she was pregnant. The question of which brother was responsible became irrelevant when Mary lost the baby, either to miscarriage or to an abortion instigated by her husband. (Weisberg believes the latter.) Relations grew increasingly strained, but two years passed before Peter filed for divorce. The author delivers a day-by-day account of the trial, making skillful use of court transcripts, contemporary journalism, letters, and the classic diary of George Templeton Strong (Peter’s cousin). Readers will enjoy the legal repartee and fume at the disgraceful legal subservience of women. The ending is somewhat anticlimactic: The jury was “deadlocked,” with central questions remaining unanswered, and no official divorce was granted. Three years later, Peter’s lawyers quietly requested that the court reopen the divorce action; this time, the parties waived their right to a trial and would accept a referee’s decision, provided Mary received custody of the daughter. The referee found no difficulties; the couple divorced and proceeded to live out conventional lives.

Entertaining Victorian courtroom fireworks.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2024

ISBN: 9780393531527

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 27, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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TANQUERAY

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

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A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2022

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