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Starvation Heights: A True Story of Murder and Malice in the Woods of the Pacific Northwest Paperback – May 3, 2005

4.3 out of 5 stars 322 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The setting is a forested wilderness in the Northwest, circa 1911. The villain is a tall, egotistical woman doctor with an imposing jawline and a fierce will to dominate others. The victims are two wealthy English sisters, gullible health faddists after the fashion of those who flocked to Dr. Kellogg's sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan. But unlike Dr. Kellogg's comparatively gentle method of diet plus enemas, Dr. Hazzard's method was to literally starve her patients to death--and then defraud them of their valuables. Acclaimed true-crime writer Jack Olsen calls this book, "a literary and journalistic achievement of the highest order," and says, "Gregg Olsen reinforces his standing as one of America's greatest crime reporters, evoking the early twentieth century with a master's touch. No reader will ever forget Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard and her sadistic technique of mass murder by starvation."

Review

“A fascinating turn-of-the-century story of medical malpractice and murder. If you liked The Alienist, you'll find Starvation Heights all the more gripping because this story is true.” —Michael Connelly

“An engrossing and compelling look at a shocking crime in another era. Olsen’s deft touch takes us back to the early 1900s so cleverly that reading Starvation Heights is akin to stepping into a time machine.” —Ann Rule

“An account of real-life villainry that outdoes anything a novelist might concoct.” —Les Standiford, author of Meet You in Hell
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (May 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400097460
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400097463
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (322 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #184,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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By lawyeraau HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 17, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This well-crafted book is a fine example of investigative reporting at its best. Taking events from nearly a hundred years ago, the author makes the story come alive for readers of today. Those who like the true crime genre will especially enjoy this book about a bizarre murder.

In Olalla, Washington, in 1911, Claire and Dora Williamson, two wealthy British sisters on holiday in the United States, were bamboozled by a Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard, who sold them on the idea of fasting as a cure for their minor ailments. The two sisters enthusiastically adopted the doctor's solution, and therein the groundwork was laid for the tragic events that were to unfold. Although Claire was more gung-ho than Dora on the idea of fasting as a way to better health, where one sister led, the other was sure to follow, as they were so close.

The sisters underwent the doctor's restrictive dietary regimen, becoming wraiths of their former selves in the process, and the treatments that they received at the hands of the doctor were brutal. Trapped and isolated in the doctor's sanitarium, which was located in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, the sisters were at the mercy of the doctor. Although a secret cry for help was sent to a faithful family retainer, for one of the sisters help would arrive too late.

The author describes the efforts that were made to bring this so-called doctor to justice. It was interesting to discover that the doctor had no medical training but was licensed by the state of Washington to practice as an osteopath. Moreover, so skeletal would her patients become that the local yokels would refer to the doctor's sanitarium as "Starvation Heights". It is little wonder that a number of the patients died, usually the wealthy ones.
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Format: Paperback
This book is utterly fascinating. And while I think this phrase is often overused, I simply could not put this book down. When I was away from it, I was constantly thinking about when I would have time to read it again, and at the same time, not wanting it to end.

The journalistic detail in this book is second to none. The reader is completely transported back in time--and into the heart of a dark story. It is hard to believe this story is true, but it makes reading it all the more exciting and fascinating.

While some purists shy away from "true crime", I enjoy it--but I am extremely selective in what I read. The writing must be as good as the story. "Starvation Heights" does not dissapoint in this area. This is investigative reporting and writing at it's best. Fans of true crime will be thrilled to read such a well written account, and those who don't typically read true crime will find this story reads like a novel.

I cannot recommend this book enough, and I guarantee that for whatever reason you decide to read it, you will NOT be disappointed.
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Format: Paperback
This true crime is not your usual blood and gore but the detailed lives of two sisters caught in a web of lies, deceit and murder. The author makes all of the principal characters interesting and compelling and I felt that I was there rooting for the good guys to win. Absolutely wonderful, terrific read, can't put it down. Totally compelling. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to be quiet for a few days.
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By A Customer on October 19, 1998
Format: Paperback
This book is a tremendous mix of true crime and history. The story of Dr. Hazzard is surreal - it's hard to believe that the events in this book actually occurred. The book is well-written and fast-paced - I finished it in 2 days!
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Format: Paperback
"Starvation Heights" has been on my wishlist ever since I saw a documentary about homicidal 19th century quack Linda Burfield Hazzard a few years ago. Unfortunately I was disappointed and thoroughly bored by the book. It was a chore to get through. I didn't enjoy it at all. I'm tempted to give it one star, but I'm giving it two for the subject matter alone. While the material is fascinating, Olsen's treatment of that material is disjointed, mawkish and patronising. The writing is, to be blunt, just awful. I don't necessarily think Olsen is a bad writer - I just think this particular story is a bad fit for him.

The story opens with a (presumably) fictional scout camp telling stories around a fire. In other words, you can start clocking up the clichés from page one: "I aint lyin'...The doctor locked her patients up and starved `em. To skin `n bone, I heard...I heard a kid from up the valley found a couple of human skulls where he was diggin' for baked beans." It's a hackneyed narrative frame that does a disservice to the weighty subject matter. Olsen is presenting his book not as a thorough autopsy of a notorious case of malpractice, the exploits of a notorious female charlatan, and the fate of her tragic female victims, but a salacious yarn for boys; light on facts and heavy on embellishment. And that's pretty much what you get.

My pet hate is historical non-fiction that reads like a novel. Olsen seems to think his task as a historian is to give us an insight into what the characters are thinking, feeling, or doing at any given time - things he couldn't possibly know:

"Linda motioned for more tea as she cleared her throat"

"The doctor uttered one phrase sharply, a bit louder than the other words and with a slight knowing shake of the head.
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