Monday, April 22, 2013

Review: "Starvation Heights" by Gregg Olsen

From Goodreads: In 1911 two wealthy British heiresses, Claire and Dora Williamson, came to a sanitorium in the forests of the Pacific Northwest to undergo the revolutionary “fasting treatment” of Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard. It was supposed to be a holiday for the two sisters. But within a month of arriving at what the locals called Starvation Heights, the women were emaciated shadows of their former selves, waiting for death. They were not the first victims of Linda Hazzard, a quack doctor of extraordinary evil and greed who would stop at nothing short of murder to achieve her ambitions. As their jewelry disappeared and forged bank drafts began transferring their wealth to Hazzard’s accounts, Dora Williamson sent a last desperate plea to a friend in Australia, begging her to save them from the brutal treatments and lonely isolation of Starvation Heights.

My Thoughts:  I found this book by accident at Half Price Books about a year ago and finally got around to reading it.  I had never heard of the events discussed in the book and I really loved that it's a historical true crime story.  

I was shocked by how manipulative and devious Linda Hazzard was.  Her crazy idea that extensive fasting would cure illness was just mind boggling and the fact that people bought into was even more surprising.  I was really shocked by the lengths she went to in order to steal people's money and that people never questioned her motives.  The book focuses on one case in particular though it seems that many people died because of Linda Hazzard's greed and phony medical claims.  When Claire Williamson died as a result of Hazzard's treatment, the British consul in Washington pushed to get Hazzard tried for murder.  I couldn't believe that with all of the evidence available, it took a lot of time and effort to convince local officials to prosecute Hazzard.  It seemed like nobody cared about what she was doing.  I also hated how full of herself Hazzard was and how convinced she was of her own rightness.  She seemed like such an evil person and at times it was hard to believe that she was a real person.

For a work of non-fiction, this was such a smooth, easy read.  It was really like reading a novel and kept my interest from beginning to end.  The only thing I didn't really like about this book is that there weren't any footnotes or citations in the book.  It's hard for me to buy into works of non-fiction that don't list their sources and tell me where they are getting their information from.  It also makes me question how accurate the information is.  I think if it weren't for that, I would have given this book a higher rating.  As it is, Starvation Heights is a fascinating read centered around horrific crimes in America's not so distant past. 3 stars.

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