The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark by Meryl Gordon

Publication Date: May 27, 2014

Huguette Clark, born near the beginning of the 20th century, was the daughter of the nation’s second richest man and grew up in luxury. She was a lively and social philantropist who relatives one day realized had become gradually more distant until she virtually disappeared. What happened to this once vibrant personality?

 

 

The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark is an infuriating read. It is a dispassionate account of this life of Huguette Clark and what happened to her once she went into isolation written by journalist, Meryl Gordon. What is infuriating about the book is the connection that Gordon builds between her subject and reader and then the revelation that she was basically a tool for gain in her latter years outlined in objective fashion that could not make clearer the motivations of the century old woman’s carers. 

Before reading The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark, I had not heard of the lively Senator from Montana, William A. Clark. He and his first wife, Katherine, had seven children before her death in 1893. After Katherine’s death, William married his teenaged ward, Anna, with whom he had two children, the youngest of which was Huguette. Gordon’s account of Clark’s early life and the lives of her parents are through and when she embarks on the latter chapters of Clark’s life relies on interviews with key players who seem to have been surprisingly open with the journalist along with court documents that chronicled the struggle between the heiress’ family and the people paid to care for her. Clark lays out in a linear fashion the relationship of Huguette and her parents, the loss of her older, adored sibling and her relationship with her remaining and much older half-siblings with whom she was distant and cordial. Huguette’s mother, by all accounts, was a colorful woman who reveled in her daughter and indulged her while making clear that she was in this life on her own. A brief marriage that went bad cut through the middle of Huguette’s isolated existence.

The sign of a really good book was when the back cover is closed, the reader heads to Amazon and buys everything the author has written and that is truly what happened in this case. The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark is confounding. Huguette’s relatives had a relationship of routine and it took them coming together to realize that no one had heard from her. How she wound up in the hands of people who seem to have had genuine affection for her but were eager to use her to their advantage isn’t a perplexing mystery. She was grateful for their attention. The e-mails that flew between the hospital higher ups and their fundraising department is beyond shameful. Huguette may have preferred living in the hospital with her precious nurse and seemed quite aware that the all hour dedication she gained was contingent on making the woman very wealthy.

The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark is really a story of morality. People knew what was going on with Huguette and her carers and looked the other way. Did they believe the woman was better off or did they look for their own payday? You make the call. I will tell you that I was furious when I finished reading this book. I become so engaged with Huguette and her story and the steps that led her to be the woman who would pay – and pay dearly – for company was just heart breaking. The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark is a must read. Seriously, pick it up today.

Buy The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark by Meryl Gordon on Amazon U.S. Amazon U.K. Amazon CA

 

 

To End All Wars; a Story of Love, Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild

Publication Date: March 6, 2012

To End All Wars; a Story of Love, Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 is a look at the oft ignored World War I moral objectors along with those people who wholeheartedly believed in the cause.

 

 

 

Is it the job of the historian to moralize and pontificate? History is propaganda written by the winners so to read a book highlighting the moral objectors is supremely interesting. To sermonize that an event already placed in history shouldn’t have happened is not appealing. People died in World War I. It happened. It’s done. It’s 100 years in the past. History is about facts and while “woulda” “shoulda” and “coulda” are nice to suggest that a war in which an estimated 37 million people (civilian and military) died was a waste of human life. Maybe. But it happened and isn’t it a disservice to chide key figures in history making portraying them as Keystone Cop archetypes. Despite my distaste at the author’s position, the story of the objectors is one that should be told and was presented with delicacy, mindful of the challenges they faced.

To End All Wars; a Story of Love, Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 begins with the Boer War which took place from 1899-1902. The focus, of course, is British and the attention given to the war efforts of other countries ranges from dismissive to non-existent. Hochschild divides his attention between battlefield anecdotes and the stories of the protest movement. There’s a hero and villain mentality set. The good and just people speak out about the needless loss of life while the people whipping up frenzy for the war twirl their mustaches and rub their hands together in a metaphorical reflection of the animated Snidley Whiplash. The new information is in relation to the protestors and I think To End All Wars; a Story of Love, Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 would have been more interesting had Hochschild stuck with that angle instead of diverting to well tread ground in the war effort. Powerful families are divided by ideology and people who suffered great loss that they felt was needless are painted with a loving and valiant brush.

Okay, so I’m going a little hard on the author. It’s okay to have favorites and agree with one side over the other. The problem with preference in this case is that it really is at the expense of what is, at it’s core, a pretty good book. We, as people, do tend to be for or against issues and do tend to paint the other side with the broad stroke of ignorance, at best, and cruelty, at worst. As a history of World War I, To End All Wars; a Story of Love, Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 falls short but as a narration of a few key players in the effort against the war, it excels even if some of what reads as hyperbole should be taken with a grain of salt.

I’m going to call a To End All Wars; a Story of Love, Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 a “must be read for oneself” book. Hochschild is well regarded as a historian and has a critically acclaimed bibliography of era and occasion focused works. Pick it up if the description appeals and let me know what you think.

Buy To End All Wars; a Story of Love, Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild on Amazon U.S. Amazon U.K. Amazon CA

 

 

Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham

 

Publication Date: January 5, 2016

 

In 1954, Juliet Hulme and her friend, Pauline Parker, killed Pauline’s mother. The crime, committed by two teenage girls who lived rich fantasy lives and simply did not want to be separated when Juliet would be sent to South Africa, rocked Auckland, New Zealand. Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century chronicles the crime, trial and Peter Jackson film that led to the hunting down of the two long released convicts.

 

 

It seems a widely known fact that English author, Anne Perry, was born Juliet Hulme and spent five years in prison after she and Pauline Parker were convicted of killing Pauline’s mother. Given the first name when released from prison and returned to England, she took her stepfather’s last name. A secret for many years, the release of Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures brought the crime back to the public eye and interest in tracking down the now elderly teen killers.

In Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century, Graham lays out in minute detail the connection between the girls, their crime, the trial and what happened after with an in depth psychological analysis of what essentially seemed a thrill kill. Where Graham is quite through in the 384 page work, he could have used a good editor. The trial portion of the piece is retold in excruciating detail showing witnesses debating if the crime was motivated by a sexual relationship. We get it, people at the time thought they were lesbians but in the grand scheme, did it matter? They had an oddly dependent relationship whether it was sexual or is not the point. The narrative at the point of the trial is weighty and, frankly, boring. What is interesting is the lasting affects the trial seems to have had on the ancillary players. Graham doesn’t celebrate the more salacious facts of the case merely presenting what experts said on the stand and representing the disbelief of some of the litigators. They both had somewhat isolated childhoods during which time they were chronically ill and both seem to have been somewhat less of a priority for the people who were supposed to value them most. More is known about Juliet – the now Anne Perry – so it does seem that the focus of the piece is the now famous author.

What is clear from Graham’s telling is that real story will never be known unless one of the two key players decides to open up about the day they decided to kill Pauline’s mother. Perry has spoken about the crime even appearing on an episode of the UK chat show Tricia but really has only gone into already known facts. She is exceptionally gracious to herself in that she seems to have no remorse and when asked if she thinks about the victim, she says that she doesn’t because she didn’t really know her. There’s a vanity in ending of life and not thinking of the victim as inconsequential. One would hope that Miss. Perry is simply poorly spoken though she is shown to be sharply intelligent and have a way with words. Parker, from what I’ve read is a recluse. That their relationship was so dependent and the mother was killed allegedly because they would be separated it’s rather surprising that both of them said that they hadn’t be in contact since their release. I audibly gasped upon reading that Anne Perry, an author I’ve read but never looked into her life, was one of the teens. That she writes crime fiction makes me wish that I remembered the motivation of her fictional killers to perhaps look through fiction to fact, but that’s never a sure thing. Most of the non-fiction work flowed well. As mentioned, the courtroom play by play got a little weighty and I will admit to putting the book down multiple times during the course of the narrative. At it’s base, even if one didn’t grow up to be a famous author, is fascinating. I’ve read in other reviews that some readers were thrown off by the overtly English formality to the writing but, to be fair, I did not notice. Perhaps because I do read a lot of books by English author or, perhaps, because I’ve now lived in Canada for 19 years.

If you’re into true crime, Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century is a great, well researched and well presented read.

Buy Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham on Amazon U.S. Amazon U.K. Amazon CA

 

A Spy for the Union: The Life and Execution of Timothy Webster by Corey Recko

Publication Date: September 6, 2013

A Spy for the Union: The Life and Execution of Timothy Webster by Corey Recko A Spy for the Union by Corey Recko is the story of the New York Police Officer turned Pinkerton Detective turned spy for the Union forces, Timothy Webster. As a Pinkerton, he was a member of a team that uncovered a plot in 1861 to kill then President, Abraham Lincoln. As a Union spy he made valuable high-level Confederate connections before betrayal led to his execution. Continue reading A Spy for the Union: The Life and Execution of Timothy Webster by Corey Recko

Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride by Michael Wallis

Publication Date: March 17, 2008

 

Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride by Michael Wallis

Better World Books Reading Challenge – A Book that Rewrites History

Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride by Michael Wallis is a retelling of William Antrim’s story based on what is known of his life from cradle to grave and a look at the events that contributed to his outlook on life and interaction with the growing western population.

Continue reading Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride by Michael Wallis

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

Publication Date: May 27, 2010

 

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill BrysonAt Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson is a collection of stories that deal with everyday historical aspects. Bill Bryson, who lives in a historic parish in Norfolk, tours his house with his readers and talks about the life of the previous owner. Let At Home: A Short History of Private Life take you on a journey into the past

Continue reading At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom

Publication Date: January 1, 2006

 

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten BoomBetter World Book Challenge 3 – A Childhood Favorite

In The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, the author and her family lived in Haarlem in the Netherlands in 1940 when the Nazis invaded. As Calvinists, they saw it as their duty to help God’s people and set about creating a hiding place in their home for Jewish people that came to them for refuge. The Hiding Place follows their quest to save those they could and their ultimate capture and internment.  Continue reading The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom

Twelve Days In May: Freedom Ride 1961 by Larry Dane Brimner

Publication Date: October 24, 2017

 

Twelve Days In May: Freedom Ride 1961 by Larry Dane BrimnerTwelve Days In May: Freedom Ride 1961 by Larry Dane Brimnerchronicles the journey of 13 black and white Civil Rights Activists from Washington D.C. to New Orleans. The riders planned a protest of the southern states ignoring two Supreme Court rulings that segregation on buses crossing state lines was unconstitutional. The protest was meant to be peaceful and shine a light on the nonobservance of the rulings in the south. What met them on their journey was violence and hate.    Continue reading Twelve Days In May: Freedom Ride 1961 by Larry Dane Brimner

Rabid Reader’s Book List for Human Rights Day 2017

This year again, Rabid Reader’s Reviews presents a list of books dealing with human rights. In light of the events, human rights violations have increased and become a pressing issue worldwide.

 

To Live Out Loud: A Novel by Paulette Mahurin

Review quotes:

“There’s an electricity of fear and suspicion in the people. It was believed that Dreyfus would be a traitor because he was a Jew.”

“To Live Out Loud is an outstanding work of historical fiction and a must-read for everyone, especially those interested in the history of human rights violations.” 

Read the complete To Live Out Loud: A Novel by Paulette Mahurin review here.    Continue reading Rabid Reader’s Book List for Human Rights Day 2017

Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution by David Carter

Publication date: May 25, 2010

 

Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution by David CarterStonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution by David Carter, is about a series of riots broke out at the Stonewall Inn in response to a raid by the New York Police Vice Squad Public Morals Division from June 28 to July 3, 1969.    Continue reading Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution by David Carter