Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America's Heartland
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The Hossack Case
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Praise for Midnight Assassin

Publishers Weekly - Starred Review, February 14, 2005
Bryan, Patricia L. and Thomas Wolf.
Algonquin, $23.95 (288 pages)
ISBN 1-56512-306-9

Historical whodunit devotees who have devoured all the literature on famous real-life mysteries will delight in this stirring and evocative account of an obscure turn-of-the-century Iowa murder. Law professor Bryan and her husband, Wolf, a writing consultant, vividly bring to life the baffling events of the night of December 1, 1900, when a well-to-do farmer named John Hossack was fatally attacked with an ax while sleeping in his bed. Suspicions soon focused on his long-suffering wife, Margaret, who claimed to have been asleep by her husband's side when the assault took place. A history of domestic strife convinced the local authorities that she had finally snapped after years of threats and verbal abuse. As the evidence against her was only circumstantial, her guilt was a matter of dispute, even after her conviction (eventually reversed on appeal). Alternate theories of the crime, accusing the Hossacks' children, disgruntled neighbors or a "mysterious horseman," should have been a little more fleshed out by the authors. Nonetheless, they vividly portray the era's attitudes toward women (indicated by a tolerance of domestic abuse) while crafting a tale that reads like a good novel, complete with clues-like a dog that failed to bark-that feel straight from Perry Mason The tale is given heightened immediacy by the authors' description of how alive the case still is in the minds of local townspeople even a century later-Bryan and Wolf were even warned they might be in danger if they got too close to the truth.

Kirkus Review, February 1, 2005
Bryan, Patricia L. & Thomas Wolf
Algonquin (288 pages)
Apr. 1, 2005-01-24
ISBN : 1-56512-306-9

Aficionados of the unsolved case may find a delectable example in this retelling of the little-known but gruesome murder of an Iowa farmer.

The authors, a married couple (Bryan a law professor at the University of North Carolina; Wolf a writer), have done amazing spade work to open an intimate window on the Hossack family, mother and father with nine children, five still at home, as they live near the small town of Indianola, Iowa on December 1, 1900. Neighbors know the marriage as a troubled one and the husband, John, given to fits of violent rage. The long-suffering wife, Margaret, has occasionally reached out in desperation. On the night in question, she claims to have awakened to find John mortally wounded by blows to the head, citing an unknown intruder. He dies within hours. The family's ax, used occasionally to butcher turkeys, is presented at an inquest during which Margaret denies any serious trouble within the family. As she is arrested and the case brought to trial, the authors, largely through the contemporary coverage by the Iowa journalist Susan Glaspell (later to become a feminist advocate), flesh out the life and times of a farm wife at the turn of the century. Attitudes toward women become a feature both of prosecution and defense, inevitably harking back eight years to the celebrated trial of Lizzie Borden, acquitted of the ax murder of her parents in Fall River, Massachusetts. Margaret's initial conviction by a local jury was overturned on appeal. She was retried at another Iowa venue at age 60 and freed, with the jury hopelessly hung. The result freezes haunting questions--whether she was protecting one of her children, for example--and intrigue in a neighbor's casual comment: "When a man don't like a woman there is lots of things that comes up to make them contrary to each other."

Meticulously but briskly rendered mystery.

"Bryan and Wolf cover the murder investigation and the trials thoroughly and gracefully. Better still, they place the crime in the context of the times, before feminism had won widespread acceptance." — Washington Post

"Bryan and Wolf's treatment is meticulous, thorough and insightful, providing a highly textured description of Iowa life circa 1900—its customs, mores, language and its criminal and judicial processes....The Hossack murder embodies the dark side of rural America, the harshness of farm life (hardly the pastoral fantasy portrayed in romantic fiction), the troubles within families isolated by distance and work, and the suffering of farm women in a patriarchal system that relegated them to slave labor without benefit of social standing." — Dubuque Telegraph-Herald

"Midnight Assassin is a real-life mystery, to be sure. But it is also, among other things, a study of rural Iowa at the beginning of the 20th century; a commentary on the evolving role of women; a mini-biography of susan Glaspell, a 20-something fledging reporter for a Des Moines newspaper who covered the case before achieving fame as an author/feminist; and an exploration about the difficulties of learning the truth in the context of the criminal justice system….This is mini-biography at its best; this is Iowa history at its best." — Des Moines Register

"...[Midnight Assassin} reads like a script of "Law and Order" with compelling characters, conflicting evidence and dramatic courtroom antics that clearly resonate with issues we are still grappling with today." — The Cape Codder

"The book reflects meticulous research, documenting the hard scrabble everyday life existence of farm families, the political environment and the social norms that may or may not have countenanced spousal abuse. Family troubles were to be kept behind closed doors and troubled families could not depend on any community support." — Iowa Bar Magazine

"It is a book you can’t put down, and part of the reason the whole thing holds you is that it’s so well written and structured..." — The Pilot

"...a vivid portrait of life in rural America at the turn of the century and a chilling step-by-step account of the crime and its aftermath." — The Bloomfield Democrat Senior Times

"...a vivid, unflinching portrayal of life in small town America at the turn-of-the-century." — Tucson Citizen

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Midnight Assassin copyright © 2017; Patricia L. Bryan and Thomas Wolf