'The Queen is an invaluable work of non-fiction' - David Grann, Sunday Times and New York Times bestselling author of Killers of the Flower Moon
This is the gripping true tale of a villain who changed American history.
In the 1970s, Linda Taylor became a fur-wearing, Cadillac-driving symbol of the undeserving poor - the original 'welfare queen'. In the press she was the ultimate template for this insidious stereotype; Ronald Reagan himself cited her criminal behaviour in his presidential campaign, turning public opinion firmly against state benefits and those who used them.
But Taylor was demonized for the least of her crimes. She was a con artist, a thief, a kidnapper, maybe even a murderer - and certainly one of the most gifted and deranged criminals of modern times.
The Queen is the never-before-told story of a beguilingly complex American character, lost in the rush to create a vicious stereotype.
When Ronald Reagan campaigned for the presidency, he referred frequently to a Chicago woman who "used eighty names, thirty addresses, and twelve Social Security cards to collect all kinds of public benefits." Reagan made that woman a symbol for "a whole class of people who were getting something they didn't deserve" as part of his assault on the welfare state. Slate editorial director Levin's dogged investigative work in his impressive debut reveals the truth behind Reagan's claims, presenting the stranger-than-fiction story of that woman, who called herself Linda Taylor (among numerous other names). Taylor stole more than $150,000 in public assistance in one year, and had planned to "open a medical office, posing as a doctor." Levin makes the complex narrative accessible by using an indefatigable Chicago police detective, Jack Sherwin, as his initial protagonist. In 1974, Sherwin responded to a bogus burglary complaint filed by Taylor, who alleged that the criminal had somehow managed to shove a jumbo fridge through a very small window. Sherwin's probe into the suspicious "victim" revealed that Taylor was a recidivist scam artist. Levin uncovers more criminality in Taylor's history including child abuse, abduction, and a possible murder spanning a half-century beginning in 1944. Levin's piecing together of interviews, court documents, and other records paint as complete a picture as possible of an unrepentant career criminal who was turned into a stereotype for political purposes. Those interested in U.S. urban culture of another era will also be intrigued.