Saturday, 26 December 2009

Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen

A True Story of Murder and Malice in the Woods of the Pacific Northwest

From the Publisher
In 1911 two wealthy British heiresses, Claire and Dora Williamson, came to a sanitorium in the forests of the Pacific Northwest to undergo the revolutionary “fasting treatment” of Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard. It was supposed to be a holiday for the two sisters. But within a month of arriving at what the locals called Starvation Heights, the women were emaciated shadows of their former selves, waiting for death. They were not the first victims of Linda Hazzard, a quack doctor of extraordinary evil and greed who would stop at nothing short of murder to achieve her ambitions. As their jewelry disappeared and forged bank drafts began transferring their wealth to Hazzard’s accounts, Dora Williamson sent a last desperate plea to a friend in Australia, begging her to save them from the brutal treatments and lonely isolation of Starvation Heights.

In this true story—a haunting saga of medical murder set in an era of steamships and gaslights—Gregg Olsen reveals one of the most unusual and disturbing criminal cases in American history.

My review: I was bored at first when I started this book. But if you look at the books I had read just prior to this, you will see I was on kind of a murder and mayhem high when I started this book. Although this book also deals with a murder, it was a quite different method then I had previously read about. Gregg asked me not to give up on the book, since I was only at the 20 or so page mark I didn't.

The time period of this book as mentioned, steamships and gaslights, a slower paced time and the book follows this, Gregg Olsen carefully sets the stage, drawing the people with care and attention to detail. In the end, one feels that they truly 'know' everyone involved in the case and since you know the characters, you care and want to know what happens to them.

What Gregg does is take a quote from after the case had ended, in some cases from after Linda Hazzard had died, giving the communities take on Starvation Heights, sometime the stories and superstitions that were common in that area. These are scattered about the narrative of the case and the trial. Also we learn the history of Linda Hazzard and her husband and son, how they came to be in Olalla and the trouble that seemed to follow them. Much of it of their own doing it must be noted.

What Gregg doesn't do is report the trial word for word with trail transcripts. He does reprint some newspaper accounts and articles. Enough to keep you informed, but not so much that you are bored.

At the end of the book, he gives you a little synopsis of how he found out about this case and what intrigued him to write it. Where he got most of his information. This is important for me, I am always thinking as I read non-fiction, "How do they know that? How does the author know that this person said that?" And my absolute favorite part is when he talks about digging in the mud with his daughters on Father's Day looking for bones and teeth. Well what else would you expect from a true crime writer on his day?

I recommend this book to fans of Historical True Crime.