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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Review: The Girls of Murder City by Douglas Perry

Title: The Girls of Murder City
Author: Douglas Perry
Publisher: Penguin
Publish Date: July 26, 2011
Source: Unputdownables Early Reader Group

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You like quirky history books
  • You're a Chicago (the musical or the city fan)
  • You're fascinated by all things 1920s
What's the Story?:

From "With a thrilling, fast-paced narrative, award-winning journalist Douglas Perry vividly captures the sensationalized circus atmosphere that gave rise to the concept of the celebrity criminal- and gave Chicago its most famous story. The Girls of Murder City recounts two scandalous, sex-fueled murder cases and how an intrepid "girl reporter" named Maurine Watkins turned the beautiful, media-savvy suspects-"Stylish Belva" and "Beautiful Beulah"-into the talk of the town. Fueled by rich period detail and a cast of characters who seemed destined for the stage, The Girls of Murder City is a crackling tale that simultaneously presents the freewheeling spirit of the Jazz Age and its sober repercussions."

My Two Cents:

I'm a big musical fan (I can often be found belting out various Broadway tunes) and I love quirky history non-fiction books. I like books that focus in on some minute part of history that I've never known about before. The Girls of Murder City had been on my TBR list for awhile so when I got an opportunity to read the book through Unputdownables Early Reader group, I was ecstatic. This book tells the true story behind some of the women that inspired the musical, Chicago. For you all not in the Broadway know, Chicago is the story of two gorgeous women convicted of murder during the Jazz Age in well, Chicago (surprise, surprise).
First off, I didn't realize that Chicago was based off of any true story so it was cool to learn that. The true story of the women is incredibly compelling. You have very differing cases between the women blessed with looks (many of them were let off) and the women who didn't have the looks to fall back on. The Girls of Murder City is also a story about the journalism during the 1920s, the height of the newspaper wars. You have newspapers covering these salacious stories of women killing people, most often their husbands or boyfriends being covered in a variety of ways by the competing newspapers out for the best and most gripping stories. The newspapers in Chicago fought against each other to provide the best (or at least most scandalous) coverage of these trials. The newspapers had the power to either glorify or condemn these women. In an age where newspapers are slowly losing their grip on their readership, it was sort of amazing to see this contrast of how it was back in the 1920s. 
The book also goes into a little bit of detail about how the musical came to be. Maurine Watkins, a young woman, became a reporter for one of the Chicago papers. While women reporters were uncommon, the women reporters who covered hard news like murders were even more uncommon. Maurine covers these murdererous women and almost creates sort of stories rather than hard news articles about these women. She eventually goes on to write a full play inspired by the women. Eventually her play is sold to Bob Fosse (Broadway extraordinaire) and Chicago became the musical that it is today.
Perry does a wonderful job of bringing this little piece of history to life. The way that he writes the story really pulls you in. It's so interesting to see how sucked in the public got through these newspaper articles and how the papers tried to one-up each other over each story about the murdering women.
Bottom line: This is a great non-fiction book and should be widely read!

My Review:
4 out of 5 stars


  1. I have this book at home -- just haven't gotten around to picking it up. I actually know very little about musical theater but I love the tidbit about how Chicago came to be -- fascinating! I really need to read this and soon!

  2. I love musicals too and am a big fan of Chicago. I have never seen this book before- I will definitely be checking it out! Thanks for the great review!

  3. @Audra I think you'll enjoy it even if you aren't a musical fan!


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