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Book Review: The Wicked Wives by Gus Pelagatti

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Time and tide are steady and reliable, functions you can rely on. When you involve personalities and events, however, egos and feelings as well as the search for the everlasting dollar contribute to how those various functions relate to lives. Tide may never change, but time is elusive; you can have more — or you can have less. Sometimes fate intercedes. Sometimes that fate is brought about by those you know in unimaginable ways. Murder is not new; it has been around for thousands of years. The reasons are varied and yet make sense to the perpetrator at the time, but not necessarily to anyone else.

In The Wicked Wives by Gus Pelagatti, we are given the opportunity to look into the lives of a group of both women and men that were responsible for the murders of the women’s husbands in the 1930s. The story is based on a true set of crimes, and the strange and unethical reasons understate how little it takes for someone to cross over to the side of murder. During this time in Philadelphia, the scandal resulted in 17 wives being arrested for murdering their husbands. It would take one man to stand up for the victims and uncover the acts that would bring justice.

During the depression, money was scarce and this is the story about how a group of women went about finding the money to lead the lifestyles they were accustomed to, and the depravity of the acts they were willing to use to get where they felt they had to go. Not alone in their disenchanted lives, there appeared to be a mastermind, one who helped and used convincing arguments that allowed them the reasoning for killing their husbands for the insurance money. This man was also an integral part of the process and a lover to all of the women involved.

Pelagatti has used his background as a trial lawyer to help dig into the files and do the research behind this strange and bizarre set of crimes, and bring us a story of these women and their prolific thoughts and reasonings. He digs deep into the psyche of those involved and brings us a look at the lives they led and the circumstances that lead them to the final act of taking another’s life.

As the story unfolds, Pelagatti has a way of bringing sadness to the lives of those involved although each murder was well thought out and planned, with malice. The women themselves almost come across as victims as well in some cases, but each time the crime seems so brutal. The conspirator, Giorgia DiSipio, was an amazing con man and as such he created a con for each of the wives. They seemed almost naïve in their belief that they were his one and only love. Even their knowledge of the others could not convince them of his unreliability. The story moves from time and place in a well-orchestrated fashion, keeping you interested and often in disbelief. While the money involved seems so small in our day and times, we are continually reminded of the times and the Depression as it affects the lives of all those involved.

If you are interested in true crime and murder mysteries, you will find The Wicked Wives a strong starting point. The methodology behind the killings and the brutality of the process leaves you wondering how this could have happened. Pelagatti not only tells us a story of the times, he is able to set some strange red herrings and give you a surprise that you do not see coming.

This would be a great book for your true crime library, full of history and real life. I believe it would also be a great find for a reading group, a way to discuss how little is can take to make someone step over the edge.

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About Leslie Wright

Leslie Wright is an author and blogger in the Northwest.