The Devil’s Gentleman

Published By: Ballantine Books

Book Category: Non-Fiction, History

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Reviewed by Andrea Stuckey

Subtitled: Privilege, Poison, and the Trial That Ushered in the Twentieth Century.

As any good crime historian, Schechter doesn’t report to his readers “just another murder story” but delves into the deceptively innocent life of his main focus: young, estranged and exceedingly talented Roland Molineux.

Roland’s father, Edward Leslie Molineux, as a Civil War veteran was a highly respected individual, and as a father, was deeply loving and devoted to his family. As his son made his way up in New York’s society ladder, a difficult feat for the son of a paint company owner, his pride was inflated with every step up Roland took. Not only was Roland an aspiring chemist, but also a top athlete in New York’s elite Knickerbocker Athletic Club. Jealousy and his competitive nature proved to be his downfall.

After spending his time with an assortment of women, Roland finally decided on a wife, an equally ambitious woman by the name of Blanche Chesebrough. When Roland found the director of the Knickerbocker Athletic Club, Harry Cornish, was becoming a rival for his wife’s affection, Roland used his knowledge in chemistry, and his accessibility to his father’s painting business to create a bromo-seltzer poison which he sent anonymously to Cornish through the mail. Amazingly, Cornish survived, though two others fell victim in what would become the murder case of the century.

Schechter makes top work of his novel, researching everything possible about the case, leaving no holes in the case from front to back cover. He even uses the rapidly emerging (during the late 1800s) yellow journalistic style to result in a brilliant end product. With the amount of information Schechter recovered in his research—though some of the characters’ extended personal history could have been neglected—this book should have read like a text book, however, his style proved to be as suspenseful and gripping as a fictional crime thriller.

Roland, as the main subject, was captured as a seemingly innocent young man outwardly, though you are given insight to his true nature as a snake ready to strike at any threat coming his way. Right up to the end, Schechter’s audience can anticipate the junior Molineux’s fate, though bets could be placed and won, negating a predictable ending.

Armchair Interviews says: If you like fascinatingly chilling book, this is for you.

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