A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion
When corset salesman Judd Gray meets sultry Ruth Snyder in a Manhattan diner in 1925, both are in loveless marriages and looking for a bit of excitement. They begin a heady, scorching affair, sending love notes, meeting in speakeasies, and keeping a regular room at the Waldorf-Astoria. As their appetites grow, so do Ruth’s complaints that she wishes to be rid of her husband. Two years later, reluctantly but completely under her control, Judd agrees.
What follows is a darkly comedic series of murder attempts on Ruth’s husband – pulling the ladder out from under him, kicking away the jack while he’s beneath the car – and then a disorganized, alcohol-fueled, but ultimately successful murder disguised as a burglary-gone-wrong. The investigation borders on absurdity as the pair craft increasingly illogical alibis in the face of solid evidence, but the story sobers with the subsequent trial and the media frenzy surrounding it.
A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion is based on a real murder trial that dominated the news in 1927, the same trial that inspired James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity. Hansen’s novel is carefully researched and skillfully constructed. Reading at times like narrative nonfiction, at others like a lurid dime store novel, it lets the reader feel as though they are peeking into the courthouse and browsing through the tabloids. It is an almost voyeuristic approach that works beautifully with this very public, very scandalous crime. This excellent novel captures all of the sensationalism of not only the trial, but also of the Jazz Age.