I received a copy of Pretty Evil New England as member of Rose Amber’s Review Team in return for an honest review. I must thank Sue’s publishers, Globe Pequot Press, for sending me a paperback copy of the book.
For four centuries, New England has been a cradle of crime and murder—from the Salem witch trials to the modern-day mafia. Nineteenth century New England was the hunting ground of five female serial killers: Jane Toppan, Lydia Sherman, Nellie Webb, Harriet E. Nason, and Sarah Jane Robinson.
Female killers are often portrayed as caricatures: Black Widows, Angels of Death, or Femme Fatales. But the real stories of these women are much more complex. In Pretty Evil New England, true crime author Sue Coletta tells the story of these five women, from broken childhoods, to first brushes with death, and she examines the overwhelming urges that propelled these women to take the lives of a combined total of more than one-hundred innocent victims. The murders, investigations, trials, and ultimate verdicts will stun and surprise readers as they live vicariously through the killers and the would-be victims that lived to tell their stories.
It’s been a while since I read a non fiction book. Whilst I generally enjoy the genre, it’s usually more to gain knowledge on a certain subject, to read about a particular topic or person. And then move on.
Sue Coletta‘s Pretty Evil New England is a book that will stay in my mind for a long time. I should say at this point, although I never give spoilers when reviewing fiction, I have, below, given some details of each of the five women, the murders and the resulta of the trials
It is obvious from the beginning that the author has researched these stories extensively. Her attention to detail is remarkable. Not only in that she brings these women to life for the reader, not only in that are their crimes are revealed, but the background story of each one gives an insight to the way their characters were formed. Which, in a way, gives the reasons, why it was almost inevitable, that they. became murderers.
The author gives a voice to each of the woman. It’s quite chilling to hear the way they saw the world and their victims. The reasons they say why they chose their victims are varied; suffice it to say, it only shows how evil they were.
The book is divided into five sections, dealing with each woman: Jane Toppan, truly frightening in the caring facade she presented to society for so long. Wicked in her careless reasoning for the deeds she carried out – for the way she discarded the deaths of some. Reading between the lines of the author’s writing, I thought Lydia Sherman was a a sociopath with little empathy for those around her. Again, a woman with veneer of compassion in public life that hides her true vicious character. Nellie Webb was a conundrum; well educated and religious, she stood trial as a poisoner but was not convicted ( though many doubted her innocence) Afterwards, together with her husband, she vanished. Her grave was never found. Sarah Jane Robinson, in debt and desperate for the payment from insurance policies, nevertheless, gave the appearance of a compassionate woman.who gathered her own and others’ families around her but she was a woman who claimed to have dreams of loved ones dying. And then they did. After the trial, she lived the rest of her life in solitary confinement. Harriet Nason was a solitary person by choice, viewed by many in the community with distrust. Although shown through the author’s research to be almost certainly the murderer of four people, she was found not guilty.
For me, Sue Coletta’s writing style keeps the reader enthralled. Her attention to detail is impeccable; she presents the court transcripts, newspaper articles, the interviews with the women against the background of the era at the time, and reveals the society they lived in.
I must give a mention to the illustrations and photographs. Excellently portrayed and placed to add a grim reality to the text.
And I loved the cover.
This is a non fiction book that will fascinate any reader who loves both fictional and real life crime. Thoroughly recommended.
About the Author:
Sue Coletta is an award-winning crime writer and an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Feedspot and Expertido.org named her Murder Blog as one of the “Best 100 Crime Blogs on the Net” (Murder Blog sits at #5). Sue also blogs at the Kill Zone, a multi-award-winning writing blog.
Sue lives in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire and writes two serial killer thriller series published by Tirgearr Publishing. She also writes true crime for Globe Pequot, the trade division of Rowman & Littlefield Group.Coletta is a proud member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and the Kill Zone, an award-winning writing blog where she posts every other Monday.