Historic True Crime in Review: The Red Widow

January 4, 2023 Uncategorized 4 ★★★★

Historic True Crime in Review: The Red WidowTitle: The Red Widow: The Scandal that Shook Paris and the Woman Behind it All
Author: Sarah Horowitz
Source: from publisher for review
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

Summary: This delivered the drama I expected plus thoughtful analysis that made this a book I’ll keep thinking about.

In Belle Époque Paris, Marguerite Steinheil ambitiously strives for acceptance into high society, despite the limited finances of her artist husband. She manages a careful balancing act, sleeping with elite men while maintaining a sophisticated reputation in order to become part of the elite. Her strategy falls apart when she becomes a murder suspect after surviving a home invasion in which both her mother and husband were killed. Her escapades quickly become public gossip as she is put on trial.

This delivered the fun, soapy drama that I expected and more. It was well written and well researched. The author includes endnote references for specific sentences. She also gives a helpful description of how she interpreted contradictory or biased sources to arrive at her best guess for what happened. Within the story, it’s clear when she’s certain what happened and when she’s speculating or working from contradictory accounts.

The previous historical drama I read, The Scandalous Hamiltons, became dry and full of filler when we reached the court trial. That wasn’t a problem here. The trial was fascinating to read about and at about 270 widely-spaced pages, the length was just right for this story. I also appreciated that the author uses this story to highlight social mores of the time. She thoughtfully considers Marguerite as well, showing both her bravery in defying social norms and her ruthless willingness to harm less powerful people to get what she wanted.

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