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The Devil's Gentleman: Privilege, Poison, and the Trial That Ushered in the Twentieth Century

3.66  ·  Rating Details ·  1,225 Ratings  ·  124 Reviews
From renowned true-crime historian Harold Schechter, whom The Boston Book Review hails as “America’s principal chronicler of its greatest psychopathic killers,” comes the riveting exploration of a notorious, sensational New York City murder in the 1890s, the fascinating forensic science of an earlier age, and the explosively dramatic trial that became a tabloid sensation ...more
Hardcover, 494 pages
Published October 16th 2007 by Ballantine Books
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Laura
Oct 28, 2015 Laura rated it it was ok
Several things:

1. I was really not amused by the constant nudge-nudge suggestions that Roland Molineux might have been (stage whisper) gay. For one thing, there's no proof, and for another, who cares? Unless of course the writer is insinuating that Roland committed the crime BECAUSE he was (maybe, possibly, if you turn your head and squint) queer, which I'm sure Schecter would never do. Because that's terrible.

2. I also wasn't amused by the constant heavy-handed slaps at Blanche for being "frivo
...more
Lori Summers
It is sometimes interesting to read two similar books at one time. I’ve been doing that for a week or so, although the other book is my lunchtime reading so I’m making far slower progress on it. Both are true-crime books about murders that took place in the last few years of the 19th century. This one is about Roland Molineux, who lent his name to an often-cited legal statute familiar to viewers of Law & Order (it has to do with the inadmissability of prior bad acts that aren’t part of the ...more
Rachel Pollock
Interesting enough, i guess, but much of this book droned on. Odd to find a scandalous murder trial boring in places. At times the author relies so heavily on Blanche Chesebrough's unpublished memoir that i found myself thinking, why didn't he just annotate the memoir and publish THAT? The book felt somewhat phoned-in on the whole, and suffered perhaps more than it otherwise might by the fact that i'd just finished reading Paul Collins' Murder of the Century, which was a far superior book on a ...more
Rebecca
May 27, 2012 Rebecca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
I stumbled across this volume in a used book store, and, intrigued by the title, picked it up. (See? Sometimes you CAN judge a book by its cover, or at least by its title!) From the second I cracked the front cover, I was in love, and I plowed through it every chance I got. The only time I paused was to think "How have I never read about this before?", which, given how this set precedent for law, procedure, and the "trial of the century" escapades we've been subjected to ever since, is a valid ...more
Sarah
Aug 27, 2012 Sarah rated it really liked it
I found this true story of the first New York trial of the 20th century fascinating. I especially liked all the footnotes Schecter used to give further detail of a fact that he used in the story. I look forward to reading his other true crime stories.
♥ Marlene♥
Did not like this book as much as I did his other true crime books but still a good read nonetheless.

Did not realize that those yellow papers as they call it came from that time period and also did not know there was so much crime even back then.

There were so many interesting tidbits about crimes committed back in the days like the murderess Ruth Snyder and the famous photo of her in the electric chair.

The photo apparently was for 30 years the most infamous picture in the history of tabloid jour
...more
Sarah Shaw-Stahlke
Nov 26, 2016 Sarah Shaw-Stahlke rated it really liked it
I read this book on the plane from New York to London and I've never had such an enjoyable flight; I don't read a lot of nonfiction books but I think I'll start since I enjoyed this one so immensely. The book is about Roland Molineux, a young New York aristocrat, who was charged with murder via poisoning at the turn of the century. Think of the media circus involving O.J. Simpson but rewind to 1901 and add a good dash of yellow journalism courtesy of Pullitzer and Hearst. The author stays right ...more
Erin
Oct 21, 2009 Erin rated it liked it
Shelves: true-crime
This is more of a 3.5 out of 5. I really enjoyed the case and the parallels to today’s media circus. It gave a great overview of yellow journalism and enough forensics to keep me well entertained. Plus, it was interesting to see how much the public's fear of poisoning hasn't changed. I can see my parents warnings about strange candy in this book. "You don't know where that's been." still rings true.
Alice
Feb 10, 2012 Alice rated it really liked it
So far I like it more than I thought I would. I'm generally not a big fan of turn-of-the-century true crime, perhaps their depravity is not up to my standards. But this one takes place in NYC which is kind of a neat facet for me.
Melissa
Apr 15, 2009 Melissa rated it really liked it
Some parts were a little slow, but definitely liked the parallels of courtroom cases in the late 1800s/early 1900s to the disasters of today.
Carol
Oct 09, 2014 Carol rated it liked it
Interesting, but too long and repetitive.
Claudia
Nov 20, 2016 Claudia rated it liked it
Shelves: history, crime
Detailed account of murder and media in New York at the turn of the 20th century. Well-written, but almost too detailed. I wish the author had included more photographs of the people involved.
Karen
Apr 24, 2013 Karen rated it liked it
This book is about a court case, that if were to happen now, would be on Headline News all the time, as so many other current 'trials of the century' are. This was a case which had its lurid points, and at the turn of the century when this took place, the rival newspaper organizations would send their reporters out alongside the detectives to find out information about the case. In this case, a young adult son (Roland Molineux) of a famous Civil War General who fancied himself as quite a ladies ...more
Ashley
Mar 28, 2011 Ashley rated it really liked it
This is my second dabble into true crime (the first was The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America). I liked The Devil's Gentleman much better, though I wasn't sure it should get another whole star (why aren't there half-stars?). It doesn't suffer from the problems of White City simply because Schechter only deals with one guy. However, he spends an awful lot of space on tangents (details of Gen. Molineaux's childhood and military career, history of ...more
Jennifer
Aug 03, 2012 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, true-crime
***WARNING*** This review contains MANY SPOILERS!

I hesitate to call a book about murder by poison enjoyable, but this book really was. It read like a novel, and had so many twists that I really wasn't quite sure where we were going to end up.

There weren't a lot of likable personalities in this book, which one would expect, being a book about murder. The General was very likable, if a bit naive in his unfailing trust of his son. For me, the most unlikeable personality was Roland's wife, Blanche.
...more
Karyl
I am slowly making my way through Schechter's books, this being the third one I've read, and it may just be my favorite. I do dock it a point for sheer length, as the coverage of the trial itself is so long and drawn out, but then, so was the trial in real life. Schechter does an excellent job of fleshing out the facts of the case by delving into the journals and memoirs of the main characters, and even his asides on various occurrences that were taking place at the same time (like President ...more
Caroline
Feb 15, 2013 Caroline rated it really liked it
This is quite a lengthy book, which is eminently appropriate since the case related within at the time set a record for the longest trial in American history. From the date of the murders which set things in motion to the final result, it dragged on for over four years, through a coroner's hearing, an incredibly long and expensive trial, appeals, another trial. It makes the book somewhat hard-going, as the endless legal wrangling is somewhat tedious, but since it's in keeping with the events ...more
Billie Raven
Sep 13, 2016 Billie Raven rated it liked it
oh my dear... tedious is the first word that comes to mind.
And not all that interesting.
a hard slog through extraneous detail
Cynthia
Feb 16, 2008 Cynthia rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fans of Caleb Carr and The Devil in the White City
Fantastic book!!! I highly recommend it. The story is fascinating and the author brings it to life with amazing skill. He's like steven spielberg, in complete control of your emotions at every step of the way — and he does it so well that you don't even mind.
It's a literally "incredible" story, with so many twists and turns and odd coincidences, truly one of those stories that, if you tried to make it up, no one would believe you. The ending is a surprise, too, an added bonus; you never feel li
...more
Doug Phillips
Aug 07, 2016 Doug Phillips rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-general
After reading this book, I found that it spoke to my strong interest in history, and my general interest in true crime. To say that this story was ripped from the headlines would be correct, although the stories were printed over 110 years ago.

A spectacular show for interested New Yorkers, central character Roland Molineux was in some ways, the O.J. of the early 1900s. It is quite interesting, actually, to follow the police procedures as they practice classic police work in detail that often so
...more
James Cooper
Feb 07, 2013 James Cooper rated it really liked it
**Publication Notes**
p. 332 in the 2nd paragraph the word import should be impact.
p. 361 in the 5th paragraph by & by
President McKinley's last words before he died show his loyalty to his faith. I found his words interesting because of all the possible things he could have said, he chose his faith to reflect on.

Maybe I completely lost track of events in the book, but at the end of the day Roland Molineux was vindicated of murder and got away with it all. Yes, he got away with it, but lea
...more
Kristen
May 29, 2012 Kristen rated it liked it
This was a surprisingly entertaining and engaging read, considering it is the account of a poison case and trial at the turn of the 19th century, and a sizable account of these crimes, at that. However, Schechter's writing is clear and the organization of the trial and the wave of media coverage it received was done incredibly by Schechter.

Like most readers, my attention wanders quickly without engaging people at the centre of the story. Even though these were real people, and not characters, S
...more
Kate Fall
Aug 12, 2016 Kate Fall rated it really liked it
Study of the legal landmark case of State v. Molineax. The dapper chemist Roland Molineax was convicted of poisoning a woman he didn't know. There was no motive, and Molineax had never met her. The only real evidence the State of New York had was that he had poisoned someone else and got away with it. Molineax was convicted, but the case went to appeal since the State had proved he murdered someone else and not the woman he was on trial for killing.

That sounds boring, but the book is a brisk, po
...more
Anne Hawn Smith
This was the story of Roland Molineaux, a poisoner from the turn of the 20th century. He was the son of a famous and beloved General of the Civil War. He was accused of poisoning a rival for his intended wife and a man from his health club whom he had taken a severe dislike to. While the case added up, the motive seemed extreme for a gentleman of his class. The story was very interesting, especially as it was something of a "bad seed" affair. This is also another "Lizzy Borden" case in which ...more
Jeb
Jan 14, 2012 Jeb rated it liked it
The story is interesting. But, the writing is only average. In fact, this author commits what I think is the worst prose crime you can commit (other than removing all of the "e"s from your words). He ends many of his short chapters with plot forward movement sentences like "and she didn't know how important this fact would be." Or, "and, unknown to him, this would be a prescient statement." I just can't stand it when an author writes that way.

This is a court case story. Maybe there isn't more re
...more
Christine
Mar 03, 2008 Christine rated it really liked it
The trial of Roland Molineux in 1899/1900 was really a precursor to the sensationalistic crime obsession that would only continue to grow throughout the 20th and into the 21st century. In his way, Molineux was the Paris Hilton of his generation, famous for his upbringing of privilege and the fact that he didn't do too much with it (although to be fair, at least he maybe killed someone...Paris not so much). The look into the criminal proceedings at the turn of the last century is encouraging and ...more
Donna Siebold
Jul 25, 2013 Donna Siebold rated it liked it
A very interesting look at the case which is the basis for the Molineux rule. It drags a bit in parts and the hyperbolic description of the heinous nature of the crime is a bit laughable. The murderer in question was no doubt responsible for the deaths of two people. He wasn't even successful at killing the two people he intended to kill. His crimes were shocking more because of how his father was perceived than because of the crimes themselves. In the late 19th century it was common to ascribe ...more
Meaghan
Meh. Much as I enjoyed finally seeing a Schechter book that was properly footnoted, this one just dragged on. And on. And on. Of course, Roland Molineaux's trial also dragged on. And on. And on. But that's no excuse. I kept slogging through the chapters hoping for something better, but the only time I felt any suspense was almost at the very end, when [SPOILER ALERT] Roland's conviction was overturned and he had the second trial and everything. [END SPOILER]

The author deserves kudos for painting
...more
Gina Arnone
Feb 07, 2014 Gina Arnone rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014
This was an extremely interesting story. I thought that the author had a tendency wander off topic without adding to the story. I liked that the author let the facts speak for themselves, but it felt a bit like a report instead of a book. It's interesting just how much the past seems to repeat it's self in the case of high profile court cases. It also seems relevant in today's age how much money can still buy your freedom. It surprised me that it felt like the science was missing from the poison ...more
Zach
Jun 12, 2015 Zach rated it it was ok
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Aka Jon A. Harrald (joint pseudonym with Jonna Gormley Semeiks)

Harold Schechter is a true crime writer who specializes in serial killers. He attended the State University of New York in Buffalo, where he obtained a Ph.D. A resident of New York City, Schechter is professor of American literature and popular culture at Queens College of the City University of New York.

Among his nonfiction works are
...more
More about Harold Schechter...

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“Elsewhere in the journal, he transcribes the rules laid down by Benjamin Franklin as a prescription for happiness and success: “Eat not to dullness,” “Avoid trifling conversation,” “Waste nothing,” “Let all things have their place,” “Use no hurtful deceit,” “Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes, or habitation,” and so on.” 1 likes
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