Publishers Weekly Review
Baatz (For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz Age Chicago) buries the lead in this uneven account of one of the most sensational murders in New York City history, the 1906 murder of architect Stanford White. White was attending a musical revue at Madison Square Garden, a venue he designed, when he was shot three times in full view of the audience. The shooter was a man named Harry Thaw, whose motive was ostensibly chivalrous. He was seeking revenge for the 1901 date rape of his future wife, actress Evelyn Nesbit, and was later found not guilty by reason of insanity. The main narrative presents, without caveats, a chilling account of White drugging Nesbit in his townhouse and raping her while she was unconscious. Oddly, Baatz waits until the afterword to assert that "it is impossible to know if the rape, as Evelyn Nesbit described it, did take place," revisiting some of the arguments made by the prosecutors during her cross-examination at trial and noting the major differences in Nesbit's account of the contested encounter decades later in her memoir. Rather than incorporating this analysis into the main narrative, the book presents a thin recounting of the historical record that relies on dramatizations (as with an unsourced description of Thaw's emotional state during a suicide attempt) and ends with a hollow attempt to give Nesbit's life lasting significance ("Evelyn Nesbit's life, in the end, was little different from the lives of millions of others"). Readers interested in understanding this case would be better served by Suzannah Lessard's The Architect of Desire: Beauty and Danger in the Stanford White Family. 28 b&w photos. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.