Review: The Wicked Wives by Gus Pelagatti

A true story from Philadelphia in 1938 that puzzled the police.

Lovers, drugs, gangs, the mafia, secret meetings, big insurance policies, dead husbands….that is what the Wicked Wives were made of.

These wives had many things in common and one of them was planning how to murder their husbands and not get caught so they could collect the insurance money. All this resulted in one dead husband after another, and the doctor listed the deaths from a rampant bout of pneumonia occurring in the city of Philadelphia. The wicked wives were not alone in the planning, though. The mastermind of the wicked wives’ plots was Giorgio…a tailor who was only out for himself and who had women wrapped around his lies.

The book is filled with corruption and “seedy” dealings and characters. It is very character-driven with each character more
interesting than the next. Despite their flaws and wicked ways, every character made you want to learn more about their past. You won’t hate any of the characters….you will want to learn why and how they turned out the way they did. They actually are quite an interesting mix.

The character descriptions were outstanding. Each of the wicked wives came packed with a lot of interesting details and mischief. The wives are mostly well-to-do, bored and unsavory underneath, but you can’t put the book down because you will want to find out what they are up to next. There actually is a “wives” club with a leader named The Lady in Black. She is always disguised and no one will reveal who she is, but you do find out in the end…AND…you will be surprised. The male characters are also colorful, humorous, mostly Italian, and deadly. All the characters are based on real-life people.

The book is a mix of history and personal lives. If you are a history buff, you will definitely want to research this era. The police work, the courts, and the way medical advice and “doctoring” was done will definitely be of interest.

The main characters Lillian and Giorgio are quite a pair. Lillian always gets her man/men. She even has an affair with her uncle before and after her husband’s demise. Giorgio is a gigolo who won’t stop with one woman. He has a past of ruthless killings. Since he is Sicilian, he states that he won’t kiss and tell nor will he “rat” on anyone. He keeps everyone anonymous…his women and his deeds.

The good guys are far and few in between. Even the police are corrupt except for Tom Rossi, who was Giorgio’s childhood friend. They both suffered ethnic slurs and tormenting as they grew up, but Tom made something of himself….he actually became the Assistant D.A. Tom was an honest District Attorney and had a girlfriend who became quite an interesting person in the Philly Poison Ring and in her connection with the wicked wives.

Uncle Bill Evans, was a cop on the take and was always doing underhanded things to make himself look good and to protect himself and Lillian. He gave Tom a lot of trouble because of his girlfriend and because Tom was interfering with the investigation of the death of Lillian’s husband.

This book was very well written and fast-paced. I really enjoyed this book despite all the corruption and “seedy” things going on. It definitely held my interest especially because of the depth of the characters, but also because of the subject matter, the time in history, the humor, and how people lie and commit horrible acts for money and love. I highly recommend reading this book if you are a history buff and/or of Italian descent. This would make a fantastic movie.




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  • Mark

    I also read the book and agree with the review – riveting story of murder, adultery and deceit!

  • Chauncey

    Wow! This book sounds fantastic! Very enticing and well-written review — “Lovers, drugs, gangs, the mafia, secret meetings, big insurance policies, dead husbands….that is what the Wicked Wives were made of.”

    This book is next on my shopping list.

  • Margaret

    This sounds quite good! Glad to have discovered it!

  • Wow another potential purchase. I have got to stop reading these reviews or my discretionary budget will suffer greatly.

  • Sounds like an awesome book. The review really sells the book.

    • Thanks, Kathleen.

      You definitely should read it.