Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In February 1977, Helen Vorhees Brach, the widowed heiress to the Brach candy fortune, vanished without a trace shortly after leaving the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Despite the efforts of law enforcement officials as well as those of private investigators, the Brach case appeared to be at a dead end until 12 years later, when U.S. attorney Steven Miller was persuaded to look into the growing accusations of fraud against Richard Bailey and Bailey's possible involvement in Brach's disappearance. Miller's investigation soon discovered that Bailey was a con man whose modus operandi was to charm older, rich women into buying thoroughbred horses at prices far above market value. One of those women was Helen Brach, who, suspecting that she had been swindled, threatened to have Bailey prosecuted but disappeared before she could act. While exploring the Bailey-Brach link, Miller discovered that a number of Bailey's associates were involved in the killing of horses for insurance money. With a mountain of evidence against them, Bailey and 20 others pleaded guilty to several crimes associated with the murder of horses and insurance fraud. Two people who chose to fight the charges were Marion Hulick and her employer, George Lindemann Jr., the son of one of America's richest men; both were convicted of conspiracy in the murder of Lindemann's horse, Charisma. Englade (Beyond Reason) is at his best when detailing the life and crimes of Bailey, a colorful if detestable human being. The story becomes more routine when he relates the Lindemann trial proceedings. Nevertheless, this fast-paced tale will have readers wondering what did happen to Helen Brach, a question the author never fully answers. Photos not seen by PW. (July)
In 1977, widowed candy heiress Helen Brach disappeared after visiting the Mayo Clinic and was never seen again. When U.S. Attorney Steven Miller reinvestigated the case in the 1990s, he stumbled across a widespread scam involving the murder of show horses for insurance money. Eventually 23 people were indicted, including Olympic equestrian hopeful George Lindemann Jr. The most prominent villain in both cases was long-time Chicago area con man Richard Bailey. In sentencing him for other crimes, the judge said "it was more probable than not" that Bailey conspired to murder Brach. While Englade is more successful in sorting out the details of these interwoven stories than in re-creating the mystery, drama, and deceit inherent in them, his book will appeal to both true-crime and horse buffs.Gregor A. Preston, formerly with Univ. of California Lib., Davis
According to Englade, horse ownership is the only currency that distinguishes the truly wealthy from the rest of us. It also instigates phenomenal greed. Using the still-unsolved disappearance of Helen Vorhees Brach as the key thread, Englade weaves together a comprehensive account of a few dishonest Chicago horsemen with the illegal dealings of horse owners and trainers across the country. The book follows the legal trail of Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Miller in 1989, who began his own investigation into Brach's disappearance. The characters and thoroughbred con-men jump straight out of a hot-blooded novel, comprising everyone from the infamous Frank Jayne to horse assassins, rich widows, a murderer, respected veterinarians, an accomplished gigolo, and George Lindemann Jr., a millionaire who wanted to be a member of the Olympic equestrian team. Englade's re-creation of gigolo Richard Bailey's riveting trial proves that not only is truth stranger than fiction but sometimes it's more intriguing, too. The reader is aided throughout by a glossary, a chronology, and a useful list of dramatis personae.
Englade has a gripping tale of sordid doings in the super-rich world of show horses, but his narrative runs out of steam long before it reaches its conclusion.
The complicated tale consists of three different threads: One involves a charming, handsome horse swindler; the second is the unsolved 1977 disappearance of Helen Brach, heiress to the Brach candy fortune; and the third involves the venality of the wealthy who have their show horses murdered in order to collect on the insurance. Englade capably juggles these different tales, which are united through an investigation conducted by Steve Miller, an energetic and ambitious young federal prosecutor in Chicago. Miller, looking for his next big case, is told about Richard Bailey, the swindler who courts wealthy, lonely Chicago women, bleeds them dry by selling them worthless horses at inflated prices, then abandons his victims to their fate. But these fraud cases are only the means to a larger end for Miller: He wants to nail Bailey for the murder, nearly two decades earlier, of Helen Brach, with whom he was known to be friendly. And along the way, Miller uncovers horse hit man Tom Burns, who reveals the greedy, violent underside of the elite show-horse world. Englade has some wonderful characters to work with, including the smooth-talking, cold-hearted Bailey and Brach, who believes she can communicate with the dead through automatic writing. But Englade tells us almost everything we need to know before the trialsthe climax of the bookeven begin, leaving readers with nothing to learn except the verdicts. And he has a corny way with inventing sceneswhich he admits doing "for dramatic impact based on testimony and interviews."
Englade might have done better to restrict his tale to one or two of its threads and explore in greater depth the world of wealth of which we get only a glimpse here.