The Murderess Must Die
by Marlie Parker Wasserman
August 16 - September 10, 2021 Tour
On a winter day in 1898, hundreds of spectators gather at a Brooklyn courthouse, scrambling for a view of the woman they label a murderess. Martha Place has been charged with throwing acid in her stepdaughter’s face, hitting her with an axe, suffocating her with a pillow, then trying to kill her husband with the same axe. The crowd will not know for another year that the alleged murderess becomes the first woman in the world to be executed in the electric chair. None of her eight lawyers can save her from a guilty verdict and the governor of New York, Theodore Roosevelt, refuses to grant her clemency.
Was Martha Place a wicked stepmother, an abused wife, or an insane killer? Was her stepdaughter a tragic victim? Why would a well-dressed woman, living with an upstanding husband, in a respectable neighborhood, turn violent? Since the crime made the headlines, we have heard only from those who abused and condemned Martha Place.
Speaking from the grave she tells her own story, in her own words. Her memory of the crime is incomplete, but one of her lawyers fills in the gaps. At the juncture of true crime and fiction, The Murderess Must Die is based on an actual crime. What was reported, though, was only half the story.
Praise for The Murderess Must Die:
A true crime story. But in this case, the crime resides in the punishment. Martha Place was the first woman to die in the electric chair: Sing Sing, March 20, 1899. In this gorgeously written narrative, told in the first-person by Martha and by those who played a part in her life, Marlie Parker Wasserman shows us the (appalling) facts of fin-de-siècle justice. More, she lets us into the mind of Martha Place, and finally, into the heart. Beautifully observed period detail and astute psychological acuity combine to tell us Martha's story, at once dark and illuminating. The Murderess Must Die accomplishes that rare feat: it entertains, even as it haunts.
Howard A. Rodman, author of The Great Eastern
The first woman to be executed by electric chair in 1899, Martha Place, speaks to us in Wasserman's poignant debut novel. The narrative travels the course of Place's life describing her desperation in a time when there were few opportunities for women to make a living. Tracing events before and after the murder of her step-daughter Ida, in lean, straightforward prose, it delivers a compelling feminist message: could an entirely male justice system possibly realize the frightful trauma of this woman's life? This true-crime novel does more--it transcends the painful retelling of Place's life to expand our conception of the death penalty. Although convicted of a heinous crime, Place's personal tragedies and pitiful end are inextricably intertwined.
Nev March, author of Edgar-nominated Murder in Old Bombay
The Murderess Must Die would be a fascinating read even without its central elements of crime and punishment. Marlie Parker Wasserman gets inside the heads of a wide cast of late nineteenth century Americans and lets them tell their stories in their own words. It’s another world, both alien and similar to ours. You can almost hear the bells of the streetcars.
Edward Zuckerman, author of Small Fortunes and The Day After World War Three, Emmy-winning writer-producer of Law & Order
This is by far the best book I have read in 2021! Based on a true story, I had never heard of Mattie Place prior to reading this book. I loved all of the varying voices telling in the exact same story. It was unique and fresh and so wonderfully deep. I had a very hard time putting the book down until I was finished!
It isn't often that an author makes me feel for the murderess but I did. I connected deeply with all of the people in this book, and I do believe it will stay with me for a very long time.
This is a fictionalized version of the murder of Ida Place but it read as if the author Marlie Parker Wasserman was a bystander to the actual events. I very highly recommend this book.
My Rating: 4.5 Stars
My Recommendation: 9.5 Stars
(I received this book free in exchange for my honest review)
As a true crime fanatic, I was excited to read this book. It was fascinating reading it from different points of view and getting that other aspect of the story. My dad always told me there are three sides to every story, yours, there's, and the truth.
This story highlights how you can have multiple views of the same thing and leave numerous different conclusions. But the thing is, you'll never know the whole truth of any murder mystery or any crime because nine out of 10 those who committed the crime or the victim are the only ones who know the actual truth.
I will say that though I enjoyed this book and its multi POV's and having those different aspects of the story, there was some point of views that I didn't particularly like only because I didn't particularly like that person or that voice. But you will have that when you do write any book that has these multiple POV's.
Outside of that, this book was constructed with care and was well crafted. It kept me reading. I wanted to know as much of the truth as I possibly could. Especially for the time in which this took place, it is fascinating how they would proceed with such murder cases in that time.
The only other thing that pulled me out of the story is that I did have trouble reading the dialogue with the descriptions, which has to do with the time this book is set in. So if you're not used to historical books that are more authentic to the language of the time, I will suggest taking your time reading to understand the slang fully. That way, you can fully immerse yourself in the book.
Overall I give this book my high recommendation in my sample approval. The multiple aspects and layers of this book will have you thinking about what truly transpired to drive this woman to murder.
Was writing your first love?
No, my second. As a child I drew and loved art. I wrote a story in third grade that my teacher
praised but I never wrote fiction again until after I retired. Both art and fiction are equally creative—
you can turn your attention in almost any direction. If an art teacher gives two students an assignment,
they are likely to produce totally different images. Similarly, if a writing teacher gives two students
a prompt, they are likely to produce totally different stories.
Where do you like to write?
I write in one boring place, at my desk in my small home office. Writing historical crime fiction,
I need lots of books and old-fashioned papers at hand. For example, with this book I had an eighty-page
court transcript, marked up with notes and highlighting, that resided on my desk for months. I suppose
some writers can do all of this on a computer, especially if they have a big screen where they can keep
multiple documents open at once, but I use a small laptop. My desk chair faces a window, and
I have a dedicated spot for my cup of strong, black coffee.
Is writing everything you thought it would be?
Along with most writers, I find writing harder than I expected. Not only do you need a riveting plot,
but you need complex characters, believable dialog, and good pacing. While striving for those attributes,
you need to keep in mind the senses—smells, feels, heat, cold. When I finished a different novel, I
realized that not once did I mention any of the characters’ posture, so I had to go back and revise just
to focus on how people stood and moved. And that’s just one example. The list of elements writers must
keep in mind seems endless.
Who is/was your favorite character to write about?
I admit to falling in love with all my characters, but if I had to single out one it might be my
protagonist’s first lawyer, Mr. Knittle. How can you not fall in love with such a name? He is a
historical character, so that was truly his name, though some of the newspapers spelled it Nittle.
We know little about him, other than that he was appointed by the court to represent an indigent
woman accused of murder. I can imagine him freaking out, realizing that this wasa capital case and
that if he failed, his client would be executed. So he squirms out of representing her, but, let’s just say,
he doesn’t fade away.
How do you form your story ideas?
I am an extreme version of a pantser. In other words, I write by the seat of my pants. I begin with a
crime, or possible crime, but it needs to be one that is both serious and about which we know little.
The best source for learning about such crimes is readily available—the newspapers of the era.
Do you keep notes during the day? (In case something inspires you or, if you had a lively conversation and thought, “hey that would be great in a book.”)
Yes, I have a notebook where I write down ideas. Even more so, I learn from reading other mysteries
and historical fiction. I will come across a turn of phrase that grabs me, jot it down, and then come back
to that later and use it in an altered way. I am indebted to literally hundreds of authors.
Do you write in one sitting or in bursts?
I treat writing like a part-time job and write a few hours every morning. Sometimes that yields a
whole scene. Sometimes I read what I wrote the day before, press delete, and start over. Sometimes
I start writing, realize I have more research to do, and go down a rabbit hole. But I work steadily, not
in spurts. I am not reluctant to call myself a creature of routines. Routines carry value.
What was the last book you read? Did it live up to your expectations?
The last book I read that I want to rave about was Hamnet, which has already been acclaimed by
others. You don’t need to love Shakespeare, and you don’t even need to have read Hamlet, to enjoy
and admire the Hamnet.
For, The Murderess Must Die, what was your most difficult part to write?
The Murderess is a middle-aged woman named Martha Place. She has many burdens in her life,
but the biggest was when she had to give up her toddler son for adoption. It is heartbreaking to imagine
a woman having to face that option, simply due to poverty. I had to force myself to imagine her
Did this book follow your original plan? Or did it turn into something completely different?
As I said, I am a pantser, writing by the seat of my pants, without an outline. But with historical
fiction you sometimes know the last scene. I knew Martha Place was destined to walk to the electric
chair. What I didn’t know is that I would decide to imagine life not just for Martha, but also for her
victim, her teen-aged stepdaughter Ida. I realized I could not shine a spotlight just on the perp, ignoring
the victim. I should have known that from the get-go.
Did your characters ever stop talking to you at any point in your writing?
My characters jump into my brain and don’t let go. I love them all and I feel responsible for them all.
They are chatty, especially at night.
Was it hard to stay motivated during your writing process? What were some of your go-to strategies to stay on point?
I have no problem with motivation. When I start a project I must finish it, even if it takes years. I do
have a problem with self-confidence when it comes to writing, but I turn that into determination rather
than quitting. If I feel down in the dumps, I can always find an essay in a magazine about writing or an
online source, where writers explain the value of persistence. I think to keep at it, you need to enjoy
the process, not just the result. For me, writing is a puzzle. Just as you might stick with a complex
jigsaw puzzle for the hard first-half, stick with writing. Consider it a brain teaser.
Do you have a playlist for this book? Or any song that helped you develop a particular scene?
Great question, but one I can’t answer. I am not a music buff. I suppose if I had to select a song to
accompany this book, it would be Amazing Grace. I can picture Martha Place singing that in Sing
Lastly, what is one key piece of advice you would give to anyone wishing to go down the writing path?
Learn how to respond to criticism from your early pre-pub readers, often called beta readers, who
may suggest revisions that seem wrong to you. I see three ways to respond: Get discouraged and
give up. Get angry and ignore the advice. Or my recommended path: figure out why the reader
responded as she did and see if there’s a different way, maybe a simpler way, to correct the problem
than the one she suggests.
Marlie Parker Wasserman writes historical crime fiction, after a career on the other side of the desk in publishing. The Murderess Must Die is her debut novel. She reviews regularly for The Historical Novel Review and is at work on a new novel about a mysterious and deadly 1899 fire in a luxury hotel in Manhattan.
Catch Up With Marlie Wasserman:
Instagram - @marliepwasserman
Twitter - @MarlieWasserman
Facebook - @marlie.wasserman
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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Marlie Parker Wasserman. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card (U.S. ONLY). The giveaway runs from August 16th until September 12, 2021. Void where prohibited.