Kirkus Reviews QR Code
MARRYING THE HANGMAN by Sheila Weller

MARRYING THE HANGMAN

A True Story of Privilege, Marriage, and Murder

By Sheila Weller

Pub Date: April 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-394-58290-X
Publisher: Random House

 Third book on the 1987 murder of Diane Pikul by her millionaire stock-analyst husband, this one the most intimate; by the author of the so-so novel Hansel and Gretel in Beverly Hills (1978). Previous tellings of this story include Richard T. Pienciak's exhaustively detailed spellbinder, Deadly Masquerade (1990), which focused largely on the murderer, Joseph Pikul; and Rafael Yglesias's novelization of the murder, The Murderer Next Door (1990), which was less satisfying but a strong read all the same. Weller once met Diane Pikul and was a close friend of Diane's best friend, who with others had long advised Diane to leave her violent husband. In the year she was murdered, Diane, 44, had worked as a publisher's assistant at Harper's magazine for seven months in an attempt to become self-supporting and had renewed her efforts to become a writer by attending a writing class led by Allan Gurganus. Weller focuses her story on Diane rather than on the crime, giving the victim as much or more space as Joe, and has interviewed many of Diane's fellow workers and writing-class members. The author's Diane, while still tied to Joe by her low income, two children, and ongoing divorce suit, is less the shrill and greedy woman of Pienciak's version, more of a sophisticate struggling to stay sane while bound to a madman. Joe comes through, as ever, as an almost mythic nut: an abused child who later became a cross-dresser, a brilliant student, and an early millionaire; then, a failure and a recovering alcoholic on the rebound financially; later, a wife- beater but loving father of two children; and, finally, an AIDS- ridden psychotic murderer released on bail and given custody of his kids--which had Manhattan in an uproar. This story is hardening into legend, with Diane here a worthy and moving foil to the outsized ego of her husband and his mishmash fantasy life.