Lust! Murder! Lies! Sex! This novel, based on a real-life event, has it all!
In 1927 Ruth Snyder and her lover, Judd Gray, conspired to murder Ruth’s husband, Albert. This is a fictionalized version of the events that led up to Albert’s untimely demise, and the famous trial that followed.
The story is a familiar one: a young, unhappy woman has made the mistake of marrying an older man whom she doesn’t love. Her husband, Albert, seems to share her ambivalence. In fact, he keeps a large oil painting of his deceased previous fiancé prominently displayed in the bedroom and has named his boat after her. He gives Ruth an amazing amount of freedom, especially considering the times, to go out with other male “pals”. It is on one of these outings that she meets Judd Gray, a handsome lingerie salesman who has his own problems at home. The two, Ruth and Judd, begin a steamy love affair that soon has turned Judd into an alcoholic and has Ruth plotting her husband’s murder. There could hardly be two more inept murderers, and the police quickly bring them to justice.
This is no who-dun-it.
At first it wasn’t clear exactly what Hansen had in mind when he decided to write about this event, which was widely chronicled at the time and about which several non-fiction accounts have been written. It seems that he was interested in exploring what brought these two morally bankrupt, but once law-abiding, people together. He has done a fine job of laying the foundation for the crime. By turns funny, pathetic, and shocking – but never boring - Hansen lets us see how this may have transpired: the initial attraction and seduction, the manipulation, the human weaknesses. He then follows the famous trial, during which Ruth does everything possible to throw Judd under the bus. Ultimately I came away with a modicum of sympathy (tinged with disdain) for the hapless Judd. Ruth just had it coming!