This is Capote’s In Cold Blood for serial killer enthusiasts: meticulously researched, superbly written, and incredibly vivid. Don’t miss it.” —Gabino Iglesias, author of Coyote Songs
America’s First Female Serial Killer novelizes the true story of first-generation Irish-American nurse Jane Toppan, born as Honora Kelley. Although all the facts are intact, books about her life and her crimes are all facts and no story. Jane Toppan was absolutely a monster, but she did not start out that way.
When Jane was a young child, her father abandoned her and her sister to the Boston Female Asylum. From there, Jane was indentured to a wealthy family who changed her name, never adopted her, wrote her out of the will, and essentially taught her how to hate herself. Jilted at the altar, Jane became a nurse and took control of her life—and the lives of her victims.
“A thoughtful and inspired take on one of the greatest poisoners in history. America’s First Female Serial Killer: Jane Toppan and the Making of a Monster seethes with rage, compulsion, and a righteous condemnation of the servitude of the underclass. A chilling and sobering read.” —Robert Levy, author of The Glittering World
“McBrayer offers us a complex—and terrifying—portrait of a killer who seemed almost doomed from birth.” —Kate Winkler Dawson, author of American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI
“Brings the horrifying true story of Jane Toppan to lurid, novelistic life, and forces the reader face-to-face with the thoughtlessness and cruelty that helped turn a gifted, damaged child into one of America’s most legendary killers.” —Shaun Hamill, author of A Cosmology of Monsters
McBrayer, a self-described "belly-dancer and horror enthusiast," provides a wildly speculative "narrative retelling" of the story of 19th-century serial poisoner Jane Toppan (1854 1938). A nurse who confessed to killing at least 31 people starting in 1880, Toppan acquired the nickname of "Jolly Jane" for her pleasant demeanor. Without connecting the text to specific primary or secondary sources, McBrayer charts how her subject was able to get away with her crimes until she was finally arrested for murder in 1901. At her trial, Toppan argued she was sane, but the court declared her not guilty by reason of insanity, and she spent the rest of her life in an insane asylum, where she died in 1938. Contending that "facts are few," the author, bafflingly, uses "educated guess" to "assert" trivial details, such as what clothes Toppan was wearing when she met her fianc . McBrayer's analysis is less than sophisticated ("The human mind is complex and unknowable, and many things can be true"). Given that this case has already been given full-book treatment in Harold Schechter's Fatal: The Poisonous Life of a Female Serial Killer, it's not clear who this might appeal to. True crime fans who value facts should pass on this.