Posted in Reviews

Review: Gangster Women by Susan McNicoll

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Title: Gangster Women – And the Criminals They Loved

Author: Susan McNicoll

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime

Gangsters of the past never looked far enough into the future to do much planning. They stole sufficient money to get by for a short while and then robbed again. Sometimes they wanted to settle down, but most knew their crimes were going to lead to jail or death – and their women knew it too. Life on the run was no picnic, but gangsters’ molls chose it over a settled life in suburbia. This book is a history of gangsters’ molls and mob queens, and it explains who these women were, where they came from and why they did the things they did.

Rating: 3/5

I received this book on Netgalley in exchange for a review.

Everyone knows about Bonnie and Clyde, but what about other, less famous, criminal couples from the same era? This book tells the stories of women like Virginia Hill and Helen Gillis, who didn’t settle for regular asshole boyfriends, but found professional ones, and how that turned out for them.

Before reading this book, I had some vague knowledge of Bonnie and Clyde: I knew they were lovers and criminals, they died young, there’s a movie about them and they inspired Beyonce and Jay-Z’s first and best collaboration. I didn’t know any details and they are the couple I was most interested in when reading Gangster Women. Bonnie’s story turned out to be similar to other women – she met a guy, got in lots of trouble and died. It’s sad how much these women’s lives revolved around things their husbands and boyfriends did. John Dillinger’s girlfriend Billie wrote something that I think other women from this book felt too:

“Only one big thing ever happened to me in my life,” Billie said in a five-part piece she wrote from jail for the Chicago Herald and Examiner in August 1934. “Nothing much happened before that,” she said, “and I don’t expect much from now on – except maybe a lot more grief. The one big thing that happened to me was that I fell in love with John Dillinger.”

I expected the book to focus on women more, but it’s pretty much equally about men and women, so that was disappointing. I also don’t feel like I truly understand why the women did the things they did. The biggest reason seems to be ‘they were in love’ but these are real people, not characters from a soap opera, so  I can’t understand them throwing their lives away just for some romance. It makes more sense if they started hanging out with gangsters for excitement and later couldn’t get out because they got too involved with the criminal activites.

There are lots of photos in the book, but I would prefer if they didn’t include photos of corpses – it’s unnecessary and weird. The book could have been much better – it answered the question of what happened but sometimes it felt too much like reading a wikipedia article. I feel like the book is way too short for all the stories it’s trying to tell. The good thing is, there’s a ‘further reading’ list at the end, so I’m gonna check out some of those books too.

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