I am a bit of a history nerd, so, when #cjsreads decided to delve into a true crime/historical crime novel as one of our picks to kick off the New Year, I was intrigued. The Girl on the Velvet Swing: Sex, Murder, and Madness at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century, the non-fiction novel by Simon Baatz, followed the scandalous case of love, murder and betrayal by Evelyn Nesbit (the victim), Stanford White (the perpetrator) and Harry Thaw (the murderer).
I am always surprised when I read nonfiction how socially and culturally relevant many of the issues still are today. Evelyn Nesbit is raped by an older man (White) and is afraid to tell anyone based on social stigma and backlash. White seems to be untouchable due to his status and wealth. Truly, what else could be more socially relevant? Evelyn eventually marries Thaw and he, in revenge, murders White.
For the most part, the work focuses on the backstory and then Thaw’s trial after the murder was committed. While I did find this incredibly interesting, in theory, the delivery was a little confusing and dry for me at times. Lots of legislation and legal jargon was used that felt a little bit over my head and, in turn, pushed me out of the moment.
For lovers of true crime and legal non-fiction, I think this book would be a no-brainer. However, if you are looking for an on-the-edge of your seat suspense, then this would not be the case.
I gave it a solid 3/5 stars.
Thanks to the author and publisher for a copy of this novel; it was my pleasure to provide an honest review.
Want to see what the other #cjsreads members thought of The Girl on the Velvet Swing? Keep reading to find out!
What Chandra Thought:
Delving into history and true crime is always an interesting feat for me. I’m not usually into history OR nonfiction but true crime usually tickles my curiosity bone and in this case I couldn’t pass it up. As I was reading this, I realized I had read about this story before.. or watched a true crime show… or SOMETHING because it was SO eerily familiar!
An intriguing story for sure. In that era, and unfortunately still so today, when a girl is raped, molested and otherwise taken advantage of, she is the one that usually feels shameful and embarrassed to tell anyone. In this case, her own mother left her in the care of the man that took advantage of her… and yet we come to find out there are different variations to the story and really no one knows for sure what actually happened. So this story is told as best as it can be based on court documents.
While the story is based on Evelyn Nesbit and what she went through, I almost felt it was more geared toward Harry Thaw, the man who murdered the man who raped Evelyn. I was more engaged to what he had to go through. Evelyn was young, easily manipulated and unreliable as a witness, wife or reasonable person it almost seemed.
Mostly the book seemed to be about the history leading up to the main incident and the court cases that followed. Sex, Murder and Madness seemed more background to this main line. Which is fine in itself, but I think I was expecting a little more fleshing out of the details in the “backstory” of the trials – more sex, more murder, more madness please!
A decent read, but one that felt more like a history lesson for my taste.
What Jessica Thought:
In 1901, Evelyn Nesbit, who was 16 years old at the time, met with 47 year old architect Stanford White. White was a prominent figure and seen as a celebrity – he designed many landmark buildings throughout Manhattan and was highly respected in his field. After dining at his townhouse, Evelyn enjoyed some champagne with him and then woke up the next day without any memory of the night before. She was naked in bed with White and there was blood on the sheets – clear signs that she had been raped.
Now the story doesn’t end there. Several years go by and she told her future husband, Harry Thaw, about the rape. Thaw was determined to get revenge on White for what he did to Evelyn. In 1906, he got his revenge when he gunned down White in front of hundreds of witnesses. The trial that follows kept the nation captive. Was he justified in killing White? Will he be sentenced to the electric chair?
When I saw in the synopsis, “Evelyn Nesbit’s testimony was so explicit and shocking that Theodore Roosevelt himself called on the newspapers not to print it verbatim” I was immediately intrigued. I completely understand why. This topic is so relevant to the issues we are seeing today. High profile men in prominent positions that are taking advantage of younger women and unfortunately its something that’s been happening for centuries.
If you want a true crime novel with an eye-opening trial and relevant topic, then I’d highly recommend picking up THE GIRL ON THE VELVET SWING. I know that this is a subject that is not for everyone – so if you want to stay away from depictions of rape then I would recommend against reading this one.
I give this a solid 4/5 stars