George Cooper's first book, Lost Love, won acclaim for its riveting portrayal of tender passions and sensational murder in old Manhattan. It was history rendered in a page-turning narrative style, a style that Cooper now applies to the 1930s and the infamous poison murder ring that infected the superstitious Italian immigrant community of South Philadelphia.
Poison Widows describes a world where the evil eye could bring ruin upon a family, where malevolent spirits stalked the living, and where the only relief lay in the fattuchiere, the witch doctors of the Old Country. It tells the story of a self-proclaimed sorcerer, Louie "the Rabbi" Bolber, who claimed he could cure cancer with a magic butter knife given to him by a Chinese witch; Paul Petrillo, who discovered that the Rabbi's love potion, while useless as an agent of romance, was quite a handy and seemingly untraceable poison; and the dozens of "poison widows"--women who, some as willing accomplices and others just foolish dupes, sent their husbands to an excruciatingly painful death. When the scheme was eventually uncovered, a protracted battle was waged upon the widows in the courts, urged on by a frenzied press and an ambitious district attorney.
Drawing on trial transcripts, press reports, and interviews with participants, Cooper paints a vibrant, darkly comic portrait of this sordid chapter in the history of crime. The parallels to recent trials, including the impact of media coverage and the awesome powers of a skilled lawyer to redefine "justice" on his own terms, gives Poison Widows the timeliness of a story sprung right from the headlines, mingled with the morbid timelessness of mankind's darkest nature.
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