Guest Post: Marlie Wasserman author of THE MURDERESS MUST DIE

The Murderess Must Die by Marlie Wasserman Banner

Good day, my bookish peeps. Well, we have another week almost completed and I hope you’re all doing well. I’m in a variety of book clubs, some meet online and others meet locally. One of my local book clubs is dedicated to nonfiction, a genre I don’t read nearly as much as I’d like until recently. My nonfiction book club is a temporary hiatus and I’ve been reading a lot of true crime books as well as fictionalized books about real people (criminals and noncriminals). I’m hooked on both the true crime nonfiction stories as well as the fictionalized stories about people long gone. These are just a few of the reasons I’m incredibly honored to welcome today’s guest to the blog. Please help me welcome Marlie Parker Wasserman, author of The Murderess Must Die. I hope you’ll enjoy what she has to say, follow the blog tour, and add The Murderess Must Die to your ever-growing TBR lists. Thank you, Ms. Wasserman for joining us today and sharing your insight on true crime and historical crime fiction.

Focus on Killer or Victim?

I write in the mashed-up genre of true crime meets historical crime fiction. In short, I start with a true crime that happened long ago and then imagine the lives of the people involved in that crime. From the beginning I have both a known killer and a known victim. For my new novel, The Murderess Must Die, I began by focusing on the killer, a middle-aged woman named Martha Place, living in Brooklyn in 1898. I had less interest in her victim—Martha’s eighteen-year-old stepdaughter, Ida Place.

A few months into my writing I read an essay by Hallie Rubenhold, the author of a great nonfiction book, The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper. Rubenhold admonishes writers of crime fiction to pay scant attention to criminals and more attention to victims. This was not a shock to me—I had been hearing well-intentioned newscasters advocate the same approach as they covered mass shootings—but I had been slow to apply the lesson to my own writing. I stopped work on my novel for a few days, wondering if I could continue to write a book that focused on the bad guy, or bad gal.

Rather than dropping the project, I re-conceived it to have multiple first-person points of view. Although Martha Place’s voice remains at the center of the novel, we also hear the voice of her dead victim, stepdaughter Ida. When readers first meet Ida, they see her behaving as a spoiled brat who has everything going for her and maybe deserves the harm that comes to her. I try to move beyond those first impressions to explore Ida’s tragic personal history, imagining how that history may have exacerbated traits that incited hatred in her stepmother.

Perhaps almost as importantly, Hallie Rubenhold’s admonition led me to expand on the definition of victim. Yes, Ida, as the murdered teenager, is the obvious victim, but Martha Place’s crime affects and arguably comes close to victimizing the many people who occupy concentric circles around her. By murdering Ida, Martha harms the reputation of her siblings and her nieces. By refusing to cooperate with her lawyers, Martha makes their job impossible. As the first woman to be executed in the electric chair, she unintentionally causes stress to the day matron and the night matron hired to guard her in Sing Sing. By refusing to consider herself a sinner, she challenges the spiritual advisors enlisted to guard her soul. By befriending the wife of the prison warden, Martha upsets the usual rhythms of Sing Sing. I look too at whether her impending doom affects the executioner, who had never pulled the switch on a woman before. How did the experience of being connected to a convicted killer change these people? Ida Place was the official victim, but not the only person who suffered.

When I followed advice to look at the victim as well as the killer, I used a wide lens, imagining how a single act of murder victimized overlapping communities. I am certain that is a useful lens for contemporary crime fiction as well as historical crime fiction.

The Murderess Must Die

by Marlie Parker Wasserman

August 16 – September 10, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

The Murderess Must Die by Marlie Wasserman

On a winter day in 1898, hundreds of spectators gather at a Brooklyn courthouse, scrambling for a view of the woman they label a murderess. Martha Place has been charged with throwing acid in her stepdaughter’s face, hitting her with an axe, suffocating her with a pillow, then trying to kill her husband with the same axe. The crowd will not know for another year that the alleged murderess becomes the first woman in the world to be executed in the electric chair. None of her eight lawyers can save her from a guilty verdict and the governor of New York, Theodore Roosevelt, refuses to grant her clemency.

Was Martha Place a wicked stepmother, an abused wife, or an insane killer? Was her stepdaughter a tragic victim? Why would a well-dressed woman, living with an upstanding husband, in a respectable neighborhood, turn violent? Since the crime made the headlines, we have heard only from those who abused and condemned Martha Place.

Speaking from the grave she tells her own story, in her own words. Her memory of the crime is incomplete, but one of her lawyers fills in the gaps. At the juncture of true crime and fiction, The Murderess Must Die is based on an actual crime. What was reported, though, was only half the story.

Praise for The Murderess Must Die:

A true crime story. But in this case, the crime resides in the punishment. Martha Place was the first woman to die in the electric chair: Sing Sing, March 20, 1899. In this gorgeously written narrative, told in the first-person by Martha and by those who played a part in her life, Marlie Parker Wasserman shows us the (appalling) facts of fin-de-siècle justice. More, she lets us into the mind of Martha Place, and finally, into the heart. Beautifully observed period detail and astute psychological acuity combine to tell us Martha’s story, at once dark and illuminating. The Murderess Must Die accomplishes that rare feat: it entertains, even as it haunts.
Howard A. Rodman, author of The Great Eastern

 

The first woman to be executed by electric chair in 1899, Martha Place, speaks to us in Wasserman’s poignant debut novel. The narrative travels the course of Place’s life describing her desperation in a time when there were few opportunities for women to make a living. Tracing events before and after the murder of her step-daughter Ida, in lean, straightforward prose, it delivers a compelling feminist message: could an entirely male justice system possibly realize the frightful trauma of this woman’s life? This true-crime novel does more–it transcends the painful retelling of Place’s life to expand our conception of the death penalty. Although convicted of a heinous crime, Place’s personal tragedies and pitiful end are inextricably intertwined.
Nev March, author of Edgar-nominated Murder in Old Bombay

 

The Murderess Must Die would be a fascinating read even without its central elements of crime and punishment. Marlie Parker Wasserman gets inside the heads of a wide cast of late nineteenth century Americans and lets them tell their stories in their own words. It’s another world, both alien and similar to ours. You can almost hear the bells of the streetcars.
Edward Zuckerman, author of Small Fortunes and The Day After World War Three, Emmy-winning writer-producer of Law & Order

 

This is by far the best book I have read in 2021! Based on a true story, I had never heard of Mattie Place prior to reading this book. I loved all of the varying voices telling in the exact same story. It was unique and fresh and so wonderfully deep. I had a very hard time putting the book down until I was finished!
It isn’t often that an author makes me feel for the murderess but I did. I connected deeply with all of the people in this book, and I do believe it will stay with me for a very long time.
This is a fictionalized version of the murder of Ida Place but it read as if the author Marlie Parker Wasserman was a bystander to the actual events. I very highly recommend this book.
Jill, InkyReviews

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Crime Fiction
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: July 6, 2021
Number of Pages: 250
ISBN: 978-1953789877
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

On a winter day in 1898, hundreds of spectators gather at a Brooklyn courthouse, scrambling for a view of the woman they label a murderess. Martha Place has been charged with throwing acid in her stepdaughter’s face, hitting her with an axe, suffocating her with a pillow, then trying to kill her husband with the same axe. The crowd will not know for another year that the alleged murderess becomes the first woman in the world to be executed in the electric chair. None of her eight lawyers can save her from a guilty verdict and the governor of New York, Theodore Roosevelt, refuses to grant her clemency.

Was Martha Place a wicked stepmother, an abused wife, or an insane killer? Was her stepdaughter a tragic victim? Why would a well-dressed woman, living with an upstanding husband, in a respectable neighborhood, turn violent? Since the crime made the headlines, we have heard only from those who abused and condemned Martha Place.

Speaking from the grave she tells her own story, in her own words. Her memory of the crime is incomplete, but one of her lawyers fills in the gaps. At the juncture of true crime and fiction, The Murderess Must Die is based on an actual crime. What was reported, though, was only half the story.

Author Bio:

Marlie Wasserman

Marlie Parker Wasserman writes historical crime fiction, after a career on the other side of the desk in publishing. The Murderess Must Die is her debut novel. She reviews regularly for The Historical Novel Review and is at work on a new novel about a mysterious and deadly 1899 fire in a luxury hotel in Manhattan.

 

Catch Up With Marlie Wasserman:
www.MarlieWasserman.com
Instagram – @marliepwasserman
Twitter – @MarlieWasserman
Facebook – @marlie.wasserman

Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!
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Author: thebookdivasreads

I'm a reader, an avid reader, or perhaps a rabid reader (at least according to my family). I enjoy reading from a variety of different genres but particularly enjoy fiction, mystery, suspense, thrillers, ChickLit, romance and classics. I also enjoy reading about numerous non-fiction subjects including aromatherapy, comparative religions, herbalism, naturopathic medicine, and tea.

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