She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, Bury Me Deep, and reported the following:
For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard of Winnie Ruth Judd, the so-called “Velvet Tigress,” accused of murdering her two female friends in 1931 Phoenix. I’d always thought of it as one of those tawdry 1930s tabloid tales James M. Cain (Double Indemnity) would pluck from the headlines for his novels. But the more I read about the case, the more complex it seemed. Was it a case of cold-blooded murder, Winnie Ruth driven by jealous rage? Or was it, as she claimed, self-defense, a spat among friends turned violent? Or were those rumors of a frameup true? Winnie Ruth Judd became, for me, not a murderess but a lonely woman, deserted by her husband in the depths of the Depression, and quite possibly innocent of the crimes.Read an excerpt from Bury Me Deep, and learn more about the book and author at Megan Abbott's website.
Bury Me Deep is my fictionalized telling of the case. Winnie Ruth becomes Marion Seeley, an abandoned wife who finds herself drawn to two of the town’s exuberant party girls, Louise and Ginny, and their dashing benefactor, Gentleman Joe Lanigan.
Page 69 is actually both an oddity in the book and, somehow, its truest page. The book is split up into sections, each one beginning with an introduction of sorts, a retrospective take on the events from an outsider’s viewpoint. While the rest of the book is seen through Marion’s fevered eyes, these opening sections remove us from Marion and give us a distance. They also tell us a lot about the heavy judgments laid against her by the “upright town’s folks.” Page 69 is the damning voice of Ina Curtwin, one of Marion’s coworkers, condemning Marion and her wayward friends:
“I told Mrs. Seeley to keep her distance from those two. But Marion, she liked their lively ways.
“Everyone knew about Louise, like what happened at the Dempsey Hotel. How someone called the law because there was a ruckus and there she was in the fifth-floor corridor going on two o’clock in the morning, only one shoe on and they brought her in and they let her go because some calls were made. She had friends. The right kinds, it seems. And all her friends have wives.
“And that Mr. Lanigan. He’s one of those. All those big fellas strutting around with fancy waistcoasts and running the town. Well, he’s an Elk. A Grand Knight with the Knights of Columbus. He sits on the Chamber of Commerce, handing out favors. If he weren’t a papist, he might be mayor.
“All those comers, every June they send their wives eighty miles straight up into the mountains. the Hassaymapa Mountain Club, they call it. Then, back here in town, they make hay all summer long. The office girls. Girls that work at the shops. And the nurses. Always the nurses. And there was talk of Marion being Mr. Lanigan’s summer gal, only it was still spring. I didn’t talk of it, but others did.”
“See, I walk in the Lord’s path of kindness and I figure I’ll tell Marion that there’s buzzing in the air and she might do best to keep her quarter, to walk in churchly ways. After all, she is a married woman and, the way it sounds, those girls are running a regular operation there. Wild parties and who knows what. Those girls have no starch in their pleats, do you know what I mean to say? When Louise Mercer walks, there’s nothing that stays still. And the other one, one hears tell, she haint stood upright since Hoover took oath and sunk us all.
“But Marion, she don’t care to listen. Like I said, she liked their lively ways.”
In many ways, this is the whole of the book—everything that will lead to a terrible crime. The clanging verdict on these women, and the threat they represent. And, most of all, Marion’s secret desire to be a part of that exciting world Louise and Ginny promise. She can’t stop herself.
At The Rap Sheet: The Story Behind the Story: “Bury Me Deep,” by Megan Abbott.
Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.