Stranger Than

In my most recent blog I bellyached that my fiction reading adventures lately have been dull. Since then I decided to mix it up by reading a couple of non-fiction books. First I read The Phantom of Fifth Avenue by Meryl Gordon, and was pleasantly surprised at how it captured my interest. It is an intriguing tale of an heiress, Huguette Clark, who spent the final twenty years of her life in a hospital, avoiding contact with the outside world. She was surrounded by nurses, doctors, and other caregivers, who came to know her well and, in some cases, even grew to love her. But that didn’t stop some of them from taking advantage of her largesse and accepting checks to finance their children’s college educations or pay for a home renovation project. When she passed away, a battle for her estate ensued between the family that had not had contact with her in years–some were not even aware she was still alive–and the caregivers (her #1 nurse was due to inherit millions). On the one hand it’s a fascinating story of greed; on the other, it’s a sad tale of a woman’s fear of people and their motivations.

I am currently reading Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann. The title makes it sound like a cheap tabloid tale, but there is much more to this well-written and well-researched work. It focuses on the unsolved murder of Hollywood mogul William Desmond Taylor and the various suspects that surrounded him during his last days. While some of it is tedious–I couldn’t get too excited reading about Adolph Zukor and his greedy monopoly schemes–once the murder occurs, the story picks up. There is a cast of characters that would make this a great movie. In fact, there was a movie made in the fifties that was a knockoff of this true story, but probably didn’t do it justice. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m looking forward to the unveiling of the author’s chief suspect for the murder.

I know I’ll return to reading novels, but for now, truth is stranger than fiction, and, for the moment, more enjoyable.

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