#BookReview “The Murderess Must Die” by Marlie Wasserman

August 16 – September 10, 2021 Tour

Murderess Must Die cover


5/5 Stars!

I enjoyed every word of this amazing read of historical fiction even if I cared for few of the characters.  But don’t get me wrong. Not liking most of the players had nothing to do with flat, boring characters and everything to do with how well-written they were. While several characters possessed few redeeming social qualities, for me the worst was N.B. Thompson, the Places neighbor. All of his “efforts” to “help” made the former clergyman come across as self-serving, seeking attention and notoriety in the midst of death and suffering. The press came in a close second, behaving much like present-day media… writing news with a few facts buried in sensationalism.

Though told for the most part from Martha “Mattie” Place’s point of view,  several POVs from her siblings to her husbands to her defense counsel are included. And every single word enriches the story.

While her life began as one of poverty, abuse, and neglect, for me, Mattie was still an unsympathetic character. I hesitate to call her a protagonist because the woman could try and antagonize the patience of the saints.

Mattie is also a losing argument for nature versus nurture. She eventually rose from poverty to a life of status but it didn’t change who/what she was. To be fair, it was in part because she was still looked down on and treated with contempt. All that did was make a mean Mattie Place even meaner!

Despite her flaws, it didn’t help that most of those Mattie had contact with during her life saw her as a means to an end, even when she tried to do the right thing. Even the main concerns of the many members of her defense team was payment for their services and how representing “the murderess” could bolster—or harm—their careers.

Along with her own words and actions, in the end, it was also the treatment of women near the end of the nineteenth century that completed Mattie’s undoing.

Based on a true crime, Wasserman’s flawless writing makes it difficult to tell the historical from the fiction. The Murderess Must Die is an engrossing read I highly recommend!





On a winter day in 1898, hundreds of spectators gather at a Brooklyn courthouse, scrambling for a view of the woman they label a murderess. Martha Place has been charged with throwing acid in her stepdaughter’s face, hitting her with an axe, suffocating her with a pillow, then trying to kill her husband with the same axe. The crowd will not know for another year that the alleged murderess becomes the first woman in the world to be executed in the electric chair. None of her eight lawyers can save her from a guilty verdict and the governor of New York, Theodore Roosevelt, refuses to grant her clemency.

Was Martha Place a wicked stepmother, an abused wife, or an insane killer? Was her stepdaughter a tragic victim? Why would a well-dressed woman, living with an upstanding husband, in a respectable neighborhood, turn violent? Since the crime made the headlines, we have heard only from those who abused and condemned Martha Place.

Speaking from the grave she tells her own story, in her own words. Her memory of the crime is incomplete, but one of her lawyers fills in the gaps. At the juncture of true crime and fiction, The Murderess Must Die is based on an actual crime. What was reported, though, was only half the story.

Praise for The Murderess Must Die:

A true crime story. But in this case, the crime resides in the punishment. Martha Place was the first woman to die in the electric chair: Sing Sing, March 20, 1899. In this gorgeously written narrative, told in the first-person by Martha and by those who played a part in her life, Marlie Parker Wasserman shows us the (appalling) facts of fin-de-siècle justice. More, she lets us into the mind of Martha Place, and finally, into the heart. Beautifully observed period detail and astute psychological acuity combine to tell us Martha’s story, at once dark and illuminating. The Murderess Must Die accomplishes that rare feat: it entertains, even as it haunts.
Howard A. Rodman, author of The Great Eastern

The first woman to be executed by electric chair in 1899, Martha Place, speaks to us in Wasserman’s poignant debut novel. The narrative travels the course of Place’s life describing her desperation in a time when there were few opportunities for women to make a living. Tracing events before and after the murder of her step-daughter Ida, in lean, straightforward prose, it delivers a compelling feminist message: could an entirely male justice system possibly realize the frightful trauma of this woman’s life? This true-crime novel does more–it transcends the painful retelling of Place’s life to expand our conception of the death penalty. Although convicted of a heinous crime, Place’s personal tragedies and pitiful end are inextricably intertwined.
Nev March, author of Edgar-nominated Murder in Old Bombay

The Murderess Must Die would be a fascinating read even without its central elements of crime and punishment. Marlie Parker Wasserman gets inside the heads of a wide cast of late nineteenth century Americans and lets them tell their stories in their own words. It’s another world, both alien and similar to ours. You can almost hear the bells of the streetcars.
Edward Zuckerman, author of Small Fortunes and The Day After World War Three, Emmy-winning writer-producer of Law & Order

This is by far the best book I have read in 2021! Based on a true story, I had never heard of Mattie Place prior to reading this book. I loved all of the varying voices telling in the exact same story. It was unique and fresh and so wonderfully deep. I had a very hard time putting the book down until I was finished!
It isn’t often that an author makes me feel for the murderess but I did. I connected deeply with all of the people in this book, and I do believe it will stay with me for a very long time.
This is a fictionalized version of the murder of Ida Place but it read as if the author Marlie Parker Wasserman was a bystander to the actual events. I very highly recommend this book.
Jill, InkyReviews

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Crime Fiction

Published by: Level Best Books

Publication Date: July 6, 2021

Number of Pages: 250

ISBN: 978-1953789877

Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads


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