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A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion

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From the acclaimed author of Atticus and Mariette in Ecstasy comes a stylish novel set in the hard-drinking, fast-living New York City of the Jazz Age that follows two lovers in a torrid affair on an arc of murder and sexual self-destruction.

Based on a real case whose lurid details scandalized Americans in 1927 and sold millions of newspapers, acclaimed novelist Ron Hansen’s latest work is a tour de force of erotic tension and looming violence. Trapped in a loveless marriage, Ruth Snyder is a voluptuous, reckless, and altogether irresistible woman who wishes not only to escape her husband but that he die—and the sooner the better. No less miserable in his own tedious marriage is Judd Gray, a dapper corset-and-brassiere salesman who travels the Northeast peddling his wares. He meets Ruth in a Manhattan diner, and soon they are conducting a white-hot affair involving hotel rooms, secret letters, clandestine travels, and above all, Ruth’s increasing insistence that Judd kill her husband. Could he do it? Would he? What follows is a thrilling exposition of a murder plan, a police investigation, the lovers’ attempt to escape prosecution, and a final reckoning for both of them that lays bare the horror and sorrow of what they have done. Dazzlingly well-written and artfully constructed, this impossible-to-put-down story marks the return of an American master known for his elegant and vivid novels that cut cleanly to the essence of the human heart, always and at once mysterious and filled with desire.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published June 7, 2011

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About the author

Ron Hansen

52 books221 followers
Ron Hansen is the author of two story collections, two volumes of essays, and nine novels, including most recently The Kid, as well as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which was made into an Oscar-nominated film. His novel Atticus was a finalist for the National Book Award. He teaches at Santa Clara University.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 154 reviews
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,663 followers
June 29, 2022
In 1987 I went on a two-book true crime reading spree. Ann Rule had just published Small Sacrifices about Oregon mother Diane Downs, who murdered her three children in 1983. From there, I went to Ann's first blockbuster thriller The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy - The Shocking Inside Story (a triple threat title, that). Having sated my morbid curiosity about sociopaths and psychopaths (particularly those bred and raised in the Pacific Northwest), I left behind the world of true crime.

Until last week.

But here's the quirky thing: A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion (and that's the first and last time I'm typing out THAT title) is a true crime narrative written as fiction. So, how do you know what's fact and what Hansen has liberated from the headlines to craft his novel?

Weeelll, I suppose you could plow through the primary sources as Hansen did. Or scroll through the Wikipedia entries (you know you will...). Or just let go, have fun and rent Double Indemnity when you've finished ...Guilty Passion (I told you I was over that title).

What you can be certain of is the 1927 murder trial of blonde bombshell Ruth Snyder and her hapless bra-and-panty-salesman lover, Judd Gray. It was the scandal of the decade, Jazz Age Lovers Gone Wild, the story that put the noir into film noir, crime noir.

The crime is preposterous, the investigation textbook, the public fascination lurid and epic. And not to be a spoiler, especially if you haven't yet visited Wikipedia, but the murder victim (Ruth's husband, natch) isn't the only one who meets with a bad end. It's all very electrifying. So to speak. Hee.

I can't help but be silly about this, because there's such an element of slapstick to Hansen's treatment. Our star-crossed lovers are idiots, really. Hansen sends us gaily through the story as Ruth and Judd meet cute. Things get rather maudlin as guilt and manipulation and booze dampen the lovers' passions, but it's still pretty funny. Until it isn't. Because the cuckold, no matter that he is a cold-hearted bastard, really does get his head bashed in.

The other quirky thing is that A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion (copy and paste, people, copy and paste) reads like a true crime book. Hansen riffs a bit on Raymond Chandler (Thank you, Suzanne!) with his just-the-facts-ma'am style, particularly in the book's final third when the suspects are apprehended and trial unfolds. It's a highly stylized rendering, so much so that you shake the book upside-down, waiting for the Cracker Jack toy to tumble out. Hansen provides irresistible entertainment you cannot put down, even though you know it's probably not that good for you.

And now, for a little late night Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck. Yoo Hoo! Netflix!
June 11, 2018
A fictionalized account of a real-life murder that caused a sensation in the Roaring '20's. I wasn't familiar with the Snyder/Gray case until I picked up this book, but I found it to be an absorbing one - a sad, sordid tale of adultery, murder, and wasted lives. Oh, and stupidity. The two lovers, Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray did a really, incredibly bad job of killing Ruth's husband Albert and trying to make it look like a robbery; so much so that the press dubbed this "The Dumb-bell Murder." Back in 1927, of course you couldn't watch "Law & Order" nonstop all day every day to get tips on police procedures and how to get away with a crime, but it's still hard to believe how inept they were.

The author did an amazing job of bringing Jazz Age Manhattan and these long-ago people to life. I found myself at different points sympathetic to the players in this tragedy - the murderers, their victim, and even the family and friends left to carry on in the aftermath. If you enjoy true crime, I recommend this one. And don't forget to look on line for details of the real case and pictures.
Profile Image for Irene.
108 reviews138 followers
July 14, 2011
In an era when prohibition was casually ignored, a number of delusional women and men sought further escape from the mediocrity of daily life through occasional sexual dalliances, but none as sensationally provocative as that of Ruth Snyder and Judd Grey, nor with predictable ordinary consequences.

Ron Hansen skillfully weaves an astonishingly well-researched, yet captivating tale that riveted a nation in 1925, and from beginning to end, he expertly transports the reader to the historically infamous events and places that ultimately end with Albert Snyder's murder, the destruction of two families, and the execution of Albert's wife Ruth and her lover Judd.

Are the real catalysts the illusionary passion laced with drunken lust exhibited by Judd, the avaricious insincere love veiled by Ruth's narcissistic histrionics or simply a grossly misguided appendage of society's ambiguous cultural changes? Who was the real villain? Wiggle a preferred seat into the spectators' forum, and given the facts, pretend you are member of that all-inclusive male jury, what is your verdict?

Among unexpected noir comedic snippets, salacious without being tawdry, A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion is undoubtedly Ron Hansen at his best.

Profile Image for Nancy Oakes.
1,914 reviews704 followers
March 8, 2016
Oy. To say I was disappointed is an understatement.

Based on the true account of Judd Gray and Ruth Snyder who in the late 1920s killed Snyder's husband for a sizable amount of insurance money (as related in MacKellar's The "Double Indemnity" Murder: Ruth Snyder, Judd Gray, and New York's Crime of the Century), this book starts out very nicely, examining both characters very closely, both separately and together. It offers readers a view of a conflicted Judd Gray who is in thrall with Ruth but who also undergoes a lot of internal conflict because of his relationship with her. Ruth Snyder is portrayed in a way that I'd gleaned from MacKellar's nonfiction work -- here she is the coldhearted woman who wasn't always very bright -- leaving her kid in a hotel lobby while she and Gray did the do in a room upstairs, staging a series of failed accidents as test runs for killing her husband, and waiting for the insurance policy to be processed before she did the real thing. Up to the arrests, the book was nearly perfect, and I was loving it. Had Hansen continued along his line of insights into Gray and Snyder's characters, it would have been such a great book. But, sadly, after the not-so-perfect killers end up in jail, his novel starts to read more like a book of true crime, much more factual than I would have expected. Had I not read the nonfiction version first, maybe things would have been better, but I felt like he could have done so much more with this book considering how well he'd portrayed Gray up to that point. Judd Gray is definitely the one to watch in all of this, since the question really is this: why did this man allow himself to do what he did when everything about him just screams nice guy? It is a topic I find absolutely fascinating, and it's a bit sad that Hansen was traveling this road for a long time, then just sort of let that ball drop.

It's worth reading for his insight into his characters; otherwise, well, it is a bit disappointing.
Profile Image for Diane.
2,023 reviews5 followers
June 14, 2011
Based on a true story from the late 1920s. Ruth Snyder was a blond, blue-eyed beauty when she married her husband Albert in 1915. Everywhere she went heads turned. Albert was thirteen years older than Ruth, and together the couple had one daughter. They lived in Queens Village, New York.

Albert was often demeaning to his wife, sometimes drinking too much, and when he had free time, he chose to spend it doing things that he alone enjoyed. Initially, Ruth tried to please her husband, but it wasn't long before, she grew tired of being ignored by her husband. Flirtatious, and aware of the effect her beauty had on men, she got pleasure seeing their reaction to her teasing ways. Judd Gray was one of these men.

Ruth met Judd Gray, a corset salesman in a diner, and the two hit it off. Ruth was ripe for a little excitement in her life, and it wasn't long before the two began a torrid love affair. Judd, like Albert had a drinking problem. He was also unhappy in his own marriage. He finds Ruth totally irresistible. Once Ruth is sure she has Judd under her spell, she begins to plot a way to kill her husband, and the execution of that plan includes Judd. Judd admits, later that he felt, " hypnotized and helplessly dominated by her. "

This novel was addictive. It begins with a bumbled crime scene, and investigation. Along the way the reader learns of Ruth and Arthur's passionless marriage, and more about their life together, followed by the intimate details of Ruth and Judd....A.K.A. "lover boy " and their intense, reckless affair.

The author does a fabulous job of plotting out the the details of their heated affair, as well as the details surrounding the planning and execution of Albert's murder, and the dual murder trials which drew crowds numbering somewhere around 1,500 spectators. The trial and outcomes were riveting. This is one of those rare books, that made me anxious to read on, and almost a little afraid to find out what wound happen next.

Highly Recommended
Profile Image for Sonia Gomes.
306 reviews93 followers
September 13, 2022
There was no doubt that Ruth Snyder was beautiful and voluptuous, blue eyed and a perfect figure, she loved to dress and of course to have a good time. During the prohibition, there was a great deal of drinking and Ruth was not averse to having a good time.

Somewhere in the story of their lives Ruth meets Albert Snyder thirteen years older than she and they marry... but slowly and steadily the marriage starts disintegrating as Albert ignores Ruth and when he speaks to her he is demeaning, he chooses to spend his free time in his garage or on things he enjoys and which exclude Ruth.

Now this is a terrible situation for Ruth, a loveless marriage, what could she do... beautiful, voluptuous altogether irresistible Ruth starts going out more and more, drinking a great deal and meeting and flirting with men...She wants to escape her mind-numbing marriage, her nerve wrecking odious husband.

On one of her rounds of the bars and hotels Ruth meets the sleek and suave Judd Gray a dapper corset-and-brassiere salesman who travels the Northeast peddling his wares, in a Manhattan diner
Nothing strange about it...Ruth an exceedingly bored housewife and Judd Gray start a torrid affair... the usual notes, calls, hotel rooms, sometimes travels.

Sadly this is not enough for Ruth she decides that she will kill Albert but just a killing does not satisfy her, she buys three massive insurance policies...her ticket to freedom as well as wealth.

By now Judd Gray is completely in love with Ruth, he will do anything for her. He will even attempt murder or according to Ruth he should murder Albert and leave her in peace and wealth.

Ron Hansen follows the paths of every character much like a hound, captures the erotic tension and looming violence to perfection.
That the murder was completely bungled comes as no surprise, Judd was so drunk that he could barely stand let alone kill Albert who was a strong man. It was Ruth who stone cold sober dealt the final blow. Ron Hansen follows the Murder almost gleefully so botched up it was.

Although the narrative of this true story is faultless, dazzlingly well-written and artfully constructed... somewhere there is the feeling that Hanson sort of rushes through to the end.

Yes it is fast paced, impossible to put down and has all the makings of an excellent book but it lacks the passion, the heart break, the sorrow that ‘Mariette in Ecstasy’ has.
Now that is a book that will leave you in tears. I gather that Mariette in Ecstasy’ is fiction…
Maybe Hansen s should write more fiction…
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for TK421.
551 reviews256 followers
October 11, 2014
I am at a lose for words. This book was beautifully written about a truly monstrous topic. Never before have I been so affected by a "character" in literature as I have been by Ruth Snyder. Mr. Hansen you have truly shown your remarkable storytelling skills.

Profile Image for Mari Manning.
Author 12 books23 followers
June 28, 2014
I have just finished reading "A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion" by Ron Hansen, which led to my favorite time waster: googling. I liked the book, but if you are into googling, this book lends itself to your guilty passion.

This book was touted as fiction ...which it was since there were conversations, descriptions of rooms and scenery that could only come from the imagination of a writer. However, about half way through the book,I discovered that the main characters, Ruth Brown Snyder and Henry Judd Gray, were real. More on this in a minute.

The story takes place in the 1920s. Ruth is an unhappy housewife who is "sylph-like" if the book is correct. More on that later. She begins an affair with Judd Gray, as he is called, a corset salesman whose wife has lost interest in him. Ruth and Judd each have a daughter at home.

Ruth is the stronger of the two. She is angry at her husband who is still mooning over his dead fiancee, and she has begun to hate him and want him dead. Judd Gray stumbles into the affair--literally since he is an alcoholic--and feels guilty about it, although not so much as to make him stop.

After a few years of carrying on, Ruth decides to off her husband, Albert. First she takes out a double-indemnity insurance policy on him. Then she tries crushing him under a car he is working on, kicking a ladder while he is on it, closing the garage door while his car is running, but damn it all, the man refuses to die. Imagine!

She is burning mad by this time and browbeats Judd Gray into helping her. He shows up in the dead of night, dead drunk, and hits Albert over the head with a sash weight, which merely stuns him. They (mostly Ruth) try other means as well, but end up garrote-ing the poor man.

They toss the house (of course) to make the murder look like a robbery gone wrong and empty her jewelry box, hiding the stuff under the mattress (the police will never look there. Hah!). Since Judd is too drunk to do so, Ruth hits herself over the head with the sash weight and ties herself up (but not so tightly as to leave unsightly marks). No one is fooled, especially the police.

To make a long story short, they both get sent to Sing Sing's death house where Old Sparky awaits.

At this point, I wondered whether this was maybe based on a true story, because it is written with dates and places that make much of it sound real. So I googled Ruth Brown Snyder. Ruth and Judd did exist, did kill Ruth's husband, did get executed. It was a sensational case at the time. Thousands jammed the street for the trial, newspapers from one end of the country to the other carried the story even though it takes place in New York City, Queens to be exact.

One report claims that the movie Double Indemnity is based on this crime, although Ruth didn't get any insurance money due to the dishonest nature of the whole situation.

There are photos of Ruth and Judd online. Ruth is not a looker, at least not in my personal opinion, although one of the online stories notes that she gained weight in jail. Or something. If there was ever a sylph-like creature there, I sure couldn't see it. And I looked. For far, far too long.

A site that specializes in describing last meals (why?) said that she had chicken parmesan, noodles Alfredo, two milkshakes and a six-pack of grape soda. This seems like an awful lot to eat when one is preparing to meet their maker or just preparing to die, but what do I know?

Sorry, I have fallen down an internet wormhole ...

One more internet-related note: Twenty journalists were allowed into the death chamber when Ruth met her fate. One had a mini-camera strapped to his leg and snapped a picture as the current surged through her. This picture is online. It's shadowy and vague, but still creepy.

Back to the book ... As true crime stories go, this is a good one. It held my interest, which is not always the case, but I suspect that in part it is because some of it was fictionalized.

Anyway, if you are a fan of "crimes of the century" this is a must read. Be sure to google the main characters. The photos and little snippets are as interesting as the book itself.
Profile Image for Bob Mustin.
Author 19 books25 followers
September 4, 2011
Here’s one thing I’ve learned from several years of reading, analyzing (and enjoying) historical fiction: while it should lean heavily on the story’s real-life history, the story will read best when it adheres to one of the structures of good fiction. Hansen has always been amazingly good at creating vivid storylines (witness his books adapted to other creative media: Atticus and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford as cinema, and Mariette in Ecstasy as staged drama). Thus the writing of this underappreciated novelist has made me one of his most ardent fans. But I’m beginning to feel that over the last two books he’s losing his mojo. A look at Guilty Passion will give you an idea why.

This real life drama comes from the intersection of the lives of corset salesman Henry Judd Gray and married hottie Ruth Brown Snyder. Judd and Ruth meet casually through a mutual friend, and soon sexy sparks are flying. But their liaison is more than sexual heat – Ruth is grooming Judd to be the murderer of her abusive, drunken husband, Albert.
Both Ruth and Judd are stuck in loveless marriages, and while Ruth has ample reason to escape her marriage to Albert, Judd’s is simply common, boring, and sexless.
In Hansen’s hands, Judd and Ruth achieve a level of eroticism and emotional refuge perhaps uncommon in the 1920s. As it becomes clear that Ruth is moving Judd to at least assist in killing Albert (she admits to several failed attempts at killing him), Judd becomes the passively moral force in their murder plans, while Ruth becomes the amoral schemer. Here, in the middle section of the book is where Hansen’s novelistic skills shine. This is where fiction can take the reader in a new, intimate direction, as Hansen did in Hitler’s Niece, while adhering to the spirit of historical fact.

What fails this reader are the books first few pages, and the last three chapters, in which the author resorts to paraphrasing research information on their intersected lives and the resulting crime. All right, it is non-fiction in fictive clothing, so what’s the problem? Primarily the ending, where Hansen resorts to a distancing journalistic style based in researched facts. There are many unanswered questions concerning Ruth and Judd’s romantic entanglement, questions that can chase such intimacy in different novelistic directions. Here, the primary one offered is How did Judd and Ruth really feel about one another? i.e., for instance, had the murder gone unsolved, would their sexual connection have resulted in some enduring form of love?

The value of superimposing fiction over real life is to give a deeply intimate view of historical events and characters, a view that historical fact rarely offers. In Guilty Passion, Hansen takes us to the answer’s precipice, but he doesn’t allow us to peer over it.
Profile Image for Stacey.
870 reviews163 followers
October 1, 2014
This was a great fictional account of a true murder. Hansen did a great job of painting the 20's era and the characters! Oh, the characters were so vibrant and lusty.

Of course I had to look the story up online to see what Judd and Ruth looked like in real life and read the headlines.
Profile Image for Bev.
2,829 reviews250 followers
February 27, 2017
The 1927 trial of Ruth Snyder and her lover Judd Gray was a sensational story smack dab in the middle of the Jazz Age--the era of flappers, Prohibition, speakeasies, hot jazz, fast dancing, and fast-talkers. Ruth Snyder was a blue-eyed, blonde coquette who was married to a man she claimed was emotionally cruel to her and her daughter. Judd was a mild-mannered man who taught Sunday School and was (up till then) devoted to his rather plain and unexciting wife. Judd was also a salesman who dealt in ladies unmentionables who met Ruth through a mutual friend. He sold her one corset...for her mother (so she said) and before he knew it he had been swept up into a wild love affair.

Ruth became determined to be free from her emotionally remote, hyper critical husband and insured his life with a double indemnity policy. She and Judd then murdered her husband--staging a break-in and having her lover leave her tied up for the police to find. These two amateurs did a spectacularly poor job of it and it didn't take the officials long to trace the crime to its source. The newspapers had a field day covering their trial and splashing lurid details of their affair across the front page. It was one of the biggest crimes of the early twentieth century.

Hansen finds the historical details from the newspaper accounts, notes of the trial, memoirs by both Judd Gray and Ruth Snyder, and several historical books on the trial. He takes these materials and weaves a fictional backstory--fleshing out the disenchantment at home which drove Ruth and Judd into one another's arms and ultimately culminated in murder. He does a good job giving us a well-rounded look at our two lovers--though I was still left with a bit of a puzzle at the end. Why did such a nice guy as Judd allow himself to be maneuvered into a capitol crime? It also would have been nice if Hansen had been able to give the same attention to the victim as he did the lovers. We get a brief view of his sarcastic nature with Ruth--but we don't get a complete picture of him. It's difficult to tell if Ruth has built up the cruelty (to make Judd more willing to do the deed) or if her life really is as unbearable as she says. Having taken the poetic license as far as he did, it would not have been a stretch to give a bit more life to the husband. The other disappointment is that once the arrests have been made and the trial begins the story loses its fictional feel--becoming more of a factual account than fictional peek at how these two might have dealt with their plight.

Save for the final chapters, Hansen provides an interesting fictional account of what might have happened. The Roaring Twenties come alive and, like the period, the story moves at a fast, almost Charleston-type speed. Good solid story-telling.

First posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please reques permission before reposting. Thanks.
Profile Image for John  Bellamy.
52 reviews9 followers
November 23, 2011
Although a longtime fan of Ron Hansen’s novels I must confess that this fictionalization of the Albert Snyder murder melodrama provokes two contradictory reactions. As a true crime writer myself, I admire his skill in recreating one of the most notorious—i. e., well-publicized—homicides of the Roaring 20s. His grasp of the principal characters of this sordid story and his mastery of its many details is sure and deftly arranged. But notwithstanding his impressive gifts as a novelist, his narrative provides little that could not be furnished by a straightforward non-fiction treatment of the case. It is a commonplace to praise a non-fiction work with the phrase, “it reads like fiction.” Unfortunately, what we have here is fiction that reads too much like non-fiction. The problem, I think, lies in the very nature of the subject matter. Master journalist Damon Runyon, who was present at the dual murder trial of hapless killers Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray, aptly labeled it “The Dumbbell Murder” and dismissed it as a slaying “that for sheer stupidity and brutality have seldom been equaled in the history of crime.” Back in 1927, restless, slutty Queens housewife Ruth inevitably found her perfect soul mate: alcoholic and easily dominated, if guilt-wracked, New Jersey corset salesman Judd Gray. Eventually, they collaborated in one of the most idiotically planned and poorly executed murders since the marathon taking-off of Rasputin. Almost immediately identified as her husband’s killers, Ruth and Judd soon turned on each other and were duly tried and executed by the State of New York. Hansen struggles mightily to endow them with humanity and a consistently pathetic mundaneness but his efforts are ultimately defeated by the reality of his two repulsive principals. They were, as his narrative makes abundantly clear, what my clear-sighted mother used to term “cheap” people, and their squalid saga will always be more suitable as tabloid fare than the basis of fiction or even the higher class of true crime non-fiction. That said, Hansen’s relentless and fact-stuffed narrative is an entertaining introduction to what Runyon derided as “the most imperfect crime on record . . . . cruel, atrocious and unspeakably dumb.”
Profile Image for John Hood.
140 reviews12 followers
July 30, 2011
Nothing says Summer like a good murder story. Maybe it’s the cold-bloodedness of it all that helps to beat the heat; perhaps it’s simply that sweat is easier to endure when it’s shared with someone who’s sweating death. Whatever it is, there are few things more refreshing when the temperature rises than witnessing somebody fall.

When you make that a few somebodies, well, even Miami’s steamy, sultry dog days can become almost pleasant, unless of course you’re on the receiving end of a shotgun, a garrote or a fatal plunge. That’s why I spent an entire weekend immersed in murder. And it’s also why I wholeheartedly recommend you do likewise.

Equally upsetting to the lucky ol’ sun is Ron Hansen’s A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion (Scribner $25), though the dim-witted protagonists help much to eclipse things, including common sense itself. A fictionalized account of the real-life tale that captivated Prohibition era New York, Hansen’s retelling has all the hallmarks of many a murder story to come — a cheating wife, a cuckolded husband, and a wide-eyed dupe, none of whom will live to see a happy ending.

Or will they? It would take less than a second to surmise what will happen to Albert Snyder, let alone who will be behind the happening. But even knowing the end doesn’t spoil this sordid story, which is a credit to Hansen’s capacity to tell it like it was, and like it could’ve been. Yes, these are the seeds from which sprung a forest full of Double Indemnitys; nevertheless one can still clearly see the trees. Too bad the culprits couldn’t have done so too, then they might not have been forever known as those who committed “The Dumbell Murder.”

Bound: Dead, Dead and More Dead
Murder Can Be a Perfect Cure
SunPost Weekly July 7, 2011 | John Hood
Profile Image for Anne.
142 reviews4 followers
July 22, 2012
Oh, I liked this one quite a lot, despite my usual tepid reaction to biopic-type books. It's based on a cause celebre case about an affair gone bad, in which the 2 lovers, a society climber and a corset salesman, kill the woman's husband, a pompous pill of a businessman. The story is in fact the same one that inspired *2* James M Cain noirs, Indemnity and Postman. The style of this is neither hardboiled nor noirish. Apparently the actual execution of the crime was so terrible that Damon Runyon called it the "Dumbbell Murder" (as I read in the NYT). I loved the prose style, the way that facts did not whack you over the head, the portrayal of Ruth's careless yet deep sentiments for her child both protected her, and put her in unconscionable situations filled with fires that only adults--if anyone--should get near. The period language was snappy and did not reek of bygonese (David Mitchell's phrase). And the dandyisms of the travelling corset salesman, the carefully described balance of customer flirting weighed along with the actual rip-roaring affair, with torridness at a different level, quite a good characterization of how these 2 registers of seduction could be easily collapsed (by someone inclined to think of characters in static terms) but are not here.
Profile Image for Michelle.
Author 8 books6 followers
August 3, 2011
This book was based on the real-life case that gave rise to The Postman Always Rings Twice, to double-indeminity being part of the lingo, and, I would've thought, the musical Chicago, but that was already on Broadway when the "dumbbell murder" case came to court (and may, indeed, have given Ruth Snyder the inspiration for it).

Ron Hansen takes what has to have been one of the most inept coverups of one of the most sensational murders of all time and makes it compulsively readable fiction. Using the facts of the case and, most especially, the memoir of Ruth Snyder's lover, who helped her murder her husband, he builds a convincing back story of a woman who hated her husband and wanted his money, and a man so bewitched by her and brought low by (Prohibition-era) liquor that he ... did whatever she said. Till the murder happened, he confessed, and won the admiration of everyone but his former lover.

The book lags a little at the end, but this experience made me want to read other books by Hansen. I'm glad he has written others.
Profile Image for Susan Zizza Maguire.
43 reviews1 follower
August 5, 2012
Though not the torridly compulsive page turner NPR touted, it's a good read. Based on the same 1927 true life murder that inspired Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, A Wild Surge weaves invented scenarios with true ones (from court transcripts and a bio penned by Judd Gray) pretty seamlessly. (The NY Times Book Review stated that the title “A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion” comes from an editorial in The New York Daily Mirror written by Cornelius Vanderbilt III, and it too is powerfully evocative of the overstatement that this murder case provoked." ) The novel evokes the musical CHICAGO, the films TO DIE FOR and BODY DOUBLE-all starring sexy, narcissistic blonde predators feasting on the entrails of bored to death American middle class men. (Except for that Pamela Smart-that horny sociopathic bunny scored a disenfranchised, lovesick adolescent so exquisitely played by Joaquin Phoenix in TO DIE FOR.) Ron Hansen really scores with his characterization of Ruth Snyder-she's just a gal with a dream and impressive C cup, misspelling her way into the electric chair.
1,058 reviews6 followers
August 8, 2011
Writing a novel that closely follows a true story is like walking a wire between truth and fiction, there must be a lot of temptation to juice it up. This sad story of sex, murder and stupidity doesn't need a lot of juicing but I never cared at all for the woman (toujours cherchez la femme)at the heart of the story and her boyfriend comes across a drunken idiot. The only thing I learned from this book about the trial of the century ala 192? is that people drank like fish during prohibition and did really stupid stuff while drunk. Some got caught. End of story.
Profile Image for Andrea.
1,207 reviews
July 26, 2012
This is a novel written based on a true crime that happened in NYC. A narcicistic woman and her star crossed lover plot to kill her husband. Mostly the woman - Ruth -does all of the plotting. She loves being the center of everyone's world - when her husband, Albert begins to challange her and ignore her demands. very early in their marriage, she begins playing around. She meets a Judd, and he falls head over heels.

The book beings with the murder and then goes back to describe how it all began and the end for the lovers.
Profile Image for Kalen.
578 reviews80 followers
July 27, 2011
I'm really digging recent books that take historic events and flesh them out in the form of a novel. I much prefer this to the James Frey school of memoir where you fictionalize non-fiction. Give me this approach any day.

Hansen is a great writer and I can't wait to read more of his books. He really captures the era, the atmosphere, and the characters in a wholly believable way.
Profile Image for Karen .
207 reviews10 followers
November 2, 2011
Fascinating fiction based on true case of love triangle/murder in NYC in 1920's, really good, this author often writes fiction based on historical fact such as "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford".
Profile Image for Jennifer.
35 reviews4 followers
May 16, 2014
My heart was still racing 20mins after finishing this book. Set in New York during the jazz era, and based on the true story of Ruth Snyder and her lover Judd Gray, who murder her husband. This is historical fiction at its best.
Profile Image for Connie.
413 reviews3 followers
September 30, 2011
Wow--what a twisted little page turner! Based on a real murder case--not the stuff I usually read, but set in the 1920s, which has been intriguing to me lately. Worth a try!
Profile Image for Ostap Bender.
928 reviews12 followers
September 6, 2021
Historical fiction based on the Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray scandal from 1927 in which a flirtatious woman manipulated a nice married guy into helping her murder her husband following the formula sex + alcohol = violence.

While it paints a picture of true events, as a story there is nothing new here – the character types and events all seem ho-hum because we’ve seen them countless times before. Moreover, there is absolutely no suspense at all in the way the story is told. As for the historical details, there are a few tidbits of interest, but more often than not the people and events from the time that Hansen mentions are well known and seem forced in bunches into the narrative.

I have a mild surge of guilty rationalization for having purchased and read this book, and I can’t believe the San Francisco Chronicle picked this as one of the top 100 books of 2011.

On seduction and dominance:
“…Ruth was doing the same: calling out his vices, torturing him with affection, exhausting him with liquor and schemes and secrecy and shocking sexual practices until he felt dirtied and defiled. She’d seduced and dominated him, he thought, held his yearning heart in her hands, fondly and expertly played his frailties and hankerings as if he were her pet, her toy.
And yet he found it impossible to stop desiring her, and if there was any infidelity, he thought, it was in his grim and loveless marriage to Isabel, a wedding of unequals that was now not just defiled but dead. All he could offer his wife in the future were the leftover scraps of an old friendship. And all she could offer him was his daughter. But that was enough. Jane was the glue.”

“Ruth knew he idolized her and she loved his infatuation. But she loved even more the exercise of power over Judd, an intoxicating authority and governance she’d never felt in school, on a job, with Albert, or even with Lorraine. She’d softly tease Judd’s naked torso with a pheasant feather until he was giggling and excited, and then she’d shock him with a hard slap to the face. She’d kiss him with great tenderness and then abruptly spit into his mouth. She called him cruel names during intercourse so he’d ram her in a hot rage. She made him grovel and feel off balance and then she’d coo and caress him as he rounded into a fetal position at her feet.”
Profile Image for Doctor Moss.
461 reviews17 followers
April 9, 2018
Ron Hansen writes historical novels. This one might be his best. It depicts a famous murder case from 1927, the murder of Albert Snyder by his wife, Ruth, and her lover, Judd Gray. Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray seem like affairs just waiting to happen, both still young but years into marriages that don't make them happy. Their unhappiness is less a matter of failures, I think, than a reflection of both of their unsettledness, a simple need for something different than anything they have.

The story is told with its conclusion in hand -- the book begins with the aftermath of the murder and then recounts everything that led up to it. There is no mystery, except the mystery of how two people could put themselves on such a hellbent course to self-destruction. The murder itself is artless, and there is little or no question that they will be caught and convicted. It's as if, for them, the murder itself was the goal, and trying to get away with it a minor detail.

As their relationship develops, Ruth begins to mention the idea of killing her husband, Albert. It's almost an explicit test of love and manhood for Judd -- does he love her enough and is he man enough to kill her husband? But Ruth does seem to fall for Judd, and the more she falls for Judd, the more she despises Albert. Judd, a traveling lingerie salesman, makes his relationship with Ruth a seemingly permanent part of his life, establishing her identity as "Mrs. Gray" at the hotels along his route. They don't have so much plans as dreamlike visions of eliminating Albert and being together.

The murder has been dramatized before, most notably in the movie, Double Indemnity, although the story was changed considerably for that movie. Here what Hansen did was take what was known and fill in the thoughts and conversations of its characters. There's nothing sensational about them -- it's not about wild sex or over-the-top craziness. It's more a matter of falling inexorably and tragically into a course of action that just can't be good for anybody.
Profile Image for Eugene.
181 reviews
July 18, 2017
I love Mariette in Ecstasy and Exiles, but this book did not do it for me. While the other books by Hansen felt intimate and immediate, this felt flat. Perhaps it is the tawdry topic. Perhaps the characters just weren't that interesting in life and Hansen could not make them that much moreso in fiction. I found myself glossing over sections to get to the end.
The book has some good parts, but the middle third seemed overlong and tired. The vast amount of alcohol consumption seemed odd give it was Prohibition. Was everyone an alcoholic in that era? I could understand the relationship, which is reminiscent of Body Heat, in fanatic passion manipulated to horrible ends.
Hansen has a way with last lines in books. I was astounded by the last line of Mariette. I think the last line of Wild Surge was poignant and true. I wish that could have come out in the characters throughout the book.
I will read more Hansen, because I admire Mariette in Ecstasy and Exiles so much.
Profile Image for Dianne Landry.
952 reviews
December 25, 2022
I really enjoyed this fictionalized account of a real murder, although two more inept killers I think it would be hard to find. By the description of Ruth Snyder I had pictured a Marilyn Monroe look alike. When I googled her I was shocked that I found she looked more like MA Kettle. I guess they could just be bad photos but I really don't get how she managed to mesmerize so many men. Maybe standards of beauty were different in the 1920s.
September 12, 2022
Roman tiré d'une histoire vrai.
J'ai parfois eu une indigestion de détail notamment dans la citation des marques et nom de personne, mais dans l'ensemble c'est agréable à lire.
Il peut être intéressant de se documenter sur la vrai histoire, mais à faire après avoir lu le livre pour ne pas spolier le plaisir.
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