4 out of 4 stars
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The Wicked Wives by Gus Pelagatti is a historical fiction novel based on a true story that took place in the late 1930's. The author first heard about these crimes when he was eight years old and overheard his mother gossiping. After a career as a trial attorney, he becomes interested in writing a fictionalized account of these notorious crimes.
A bunch of Philadelphia housewives individually conspire with a local tailor, Giorgio DiSipio, to murder their husbands for the insurance money. Of course, the tailor takes a cut of the money. Initially, Lillian Stoner’s mother-in-law implores the D.A.’s Office to investigate her son’s death. She thinks his symptoms were not pneumonia and suspects that her philandering daughter-in-law had a role in his demise. As the deaths of other married men start piling up, 1st Assistant District Attorney Tom Rossi digs further to discover if they were murdered and if there is a link between the cases. What he finds is much bigger than he could have ever imagined.
Each woman’s backstory is described in detail, so that you understand their motives. While money is the driving force, each of the women has specific problems. For example, Eva had a gambling problem and owed a lot of money to a mob bookie. In addition, most of the women are having an affair with Giorgio and some are even in love with him. There is a large cast of characters, yet the author manages to weave their stories together seamlessly. I had no trouble remembering who each person was and their individual story.
All of the characters are well-drawn and interesting. Most of them aren’t likeable, but I was spellbound by their depravity and lack of conscience. Boris Feldman, aka the Rabbi, is a particularly entertaining character during the interrogations and courtroom scenes.
The Philadelphia setting serves as a colorful backdrop. You will experience dirty politics, which this city has had a long reputation for, bribery, and prejudice against Jews, blacks and Italians. The author paints a detailed picture of the local shops, restaurants, cars, and the general flavor of the 1930’s era.
The story moves at a rapid pace in the first part of the book. Two of the women are introduced and their husbands die in the first few chapters. I was sucked in right from the start. The pace slows down as the plot switches gears to the arrests and trials. Still, the story is no less engaging during these scenes.
There is one major twist at the end that is fairly shocking. I thought the way Tom realized this twist didn’t seem realistic. I wonder if his suspicion actually happened that way in real life.
I think the author would have benefitted by using a different title than The Wicked Wives. The title makes the book sounds like a cheesy romance or a chick-lit story about witches. This is an excellent story that should appeal to both men and women. A different title might attract a wider group of readers.
This book deserves nothing less than 4 out of 4 stars. I loved every minute of this riveting story. I recommend this book to any adult who likes to read a well-written, absorbing tale. It’s much more than just a juicy crime story. It’s simply one great book.
The Wicked Wives
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