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Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America's Heartland (Bur Oak Book) Paperback – August 15, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-1587296055 ISBN-10: 1587296055 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Historical whodunit devotees who have devoured all the literature on famous real-life mysteries will delight in this stirring and evocative account of an obscure turn-of-the-century Iowa murder. Law professor Bryan and her husband, Wolf, a writing consultant, vividly bring to life the baffling events of the night of December 1, 1900, when a well-to-do farmer named John Hossack was fatally attacked with an ax while sleeping in his bed. Suspicions soon focused on his long-suffering wife, Margaret, who claimed to have been asleep by her husband's side when the assault took place. A history of domestic strife convinced the local authorities that she had finally snapped after years of threats and verbal abuse. As the evidence against her was only circumstantial, her guilt was a matter of dispute, even after her conviction (eventually reversed on appeal). Alternate theories of the crime, accusing the Hossacks' children, disgruntled neighbors or a "mysterious horseman," should have been a little more fleshed out by the authors. Nonetheless, they vividly portray the era's attitudes toward women (indicated by a tolerance of domestic abuse) while crafting a tale that reads like a good novel, complete with clues—like a dog that failed to bark—that feel straight from Perry Mason The tale is given heightened immediacy by the authors' description of how alive the case still is in the minds of local townspeople even a century later—Bryan and Wolf were even warned they might be in danger if they got too close to the truth.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

 "[An] engrossing real-life whodunit."—USA Today


"Aficionados of the unsolved case may find a delectable example in this retelling of the little-known but gruesome murder of an Iowa farmer. Meticulously but briskly rendered mystery."--Kirkus
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Product Details

  • Series: Bur Oak Book
  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Iowa Press; 1 edition (August 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1587296055
  • ISBN-13: 978-1587296055
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #216,283 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

This book was of extreme interest from beginning to end.
Cindy L. Baldogo
It's somewhat speculative by necessity, and there just are not that many facts still available.
ironman
What a fascinating story, and very well told by the author.
kyn

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Carol R. on April 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book was a great read! It felt like I was reading fiction but was haunted knowing it was a true story. I couldn't put it down as I kept developing new theories about the who might have killed John Hossack or why -- thinking surely I could figure it out by the end. But I couldn't. The issues about women's rights, family violence, and the how the medical, mental health, and legal systems (or lack of systems) operated in 1900 are fascinating and made me think about what has and hasn't changed. The clear descriptions let me visualize the farmhouse and imagine every drop of blood and where it landed.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Schmerguls VINE VOICE on June 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book is a superbly researched account of the murder of John Hossack on Dec. 2, 1900, in Warren County, Iowa, and of the events that followed that murder. After you have read the book you will want to read the opinion of the Iowa Supreme Court in State v. Hossack, 116 Iowa 194, 89 N.W. 1077 (1902). I have never seen better research and insight into the legal events connected with a crime--actually more authentic than Capote's In Cold Blood. And it also throws light on the early life of Susan Glaspell as well--she was a reporter covering the trial of the accused murderer. You will not soon forget this well-written book.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Ned Wheeler on April 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book grabbed my attention from the start. The authors have captured the details of a mysterious tragedy, extracting from the historic record the perceptions and experiences and the breathing presence of the participants, and woven a narrative fabric that is compelling and evocative.

During the description of the hours and days immediately following the murder, the story line is particularly vivid, and several pages into this section I realized that information derived from witness testimony had been ingeniously interleaved in the real-time hour-by-hour description of who saw and noticed what. For example, the handing around of the family axe among visiting neighbors, and observation of hair and blood on the axe, prior to its being secured by the sheriff, is told with an immediacy that is truly striking in its verisimilitude.

This retelling of the witness testimony as it was chronologically experienced by the witnesses prepares the reader for the drama of the courtroom scene, while tightening its narrative. The climactic description of the display of the murder bed by the prosecution lawyer, pulling aside the bloodied covers to reveal the "mass of blood showing where John Hossack's body had lain," highlights the conviction conveyed by this state attorney, who temporarily persuaded me of the wife's guilt, in the heat of his closing statement.

The best writing does not depend on surprising turns of plot to carry a tale, but comes to life in the reader's re-living the events in empathy with its characters. Rarely have I seen this successfully executed in a book of non-fiction: hats off to Patricia Bryan and Thomas Wolf! What's your next book?
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Jerry Saperstein HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Authors Patricia L. Bryan and Thomas Wolf are to be commended for rescuing this story of injustice from obscurity. The tale they tell of a woman accused of murdering her husband in 1900 on an Iowa farm. They do a solid job of interweaving social outlooks, the mechanics of the judicial process of the time along with its biases and prejudices, especially toward women.

But the problem I encountered is the author's style: not quite pedantic, but terribly slow. I can recognize their dilemma. Too many adjectives would have turned a solid recounting into a scandal sheet special. Still they never seem to become more exciting than reading a trial transcript, which is usually pretty dull.

On the whole, well worth reading. But be prepared to endure. Take it in small chunks and resist the temptation to put it aside entirely. The story ultimately is interesting, but would have been more interesting in the hands of more skillful writers.

Jerry
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Daniel P. Vakulskas on April 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I first encountered this book simply because the cover caught my eye in a local bookstore. I had never heard of the book, or its authors. When I picked it up and read the back cover I realized this book was about an Iowa murder. Being from Iowa, I was greatly intrigued. I think this is an interesting topic because it's not exactly like murder trials today. Taking place in the early 1900s, mass media is not what it is today. A murder trial of this caliber would be inundated with Court TV and other news outlets today.

Patricia Bryan and Thomas Wolf do an incredible job of investigating this gruesome murder. They also do an excellent job of retelling this relatively unknown story. This is a big piece of Iowa history, at least in my mind, and it is not a popular topic of conversation. I really enjoyed the family aspect, how a family will back one another and only they know the truth.

All in all, this is an excellent read, especially if you are an Iowan. However, it is also an excellent read for anyone who thinks our Criminal Justice System is perfect. The authors tell the story like it is, they show the gender differences that existed over 100 years ago, and perhaps still exist today. It was unheard of for a wife to brutally murder her husband then, and for the most part, it still is today.
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