Monday 30 October 2023

Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen #StarvationHeights @Gregg_Olsen @threadbooks_ #NonFiction #BookReview


The shocking true-crime story of two orphaned sisters who arrived at a health retreat as patients - but only one would ever make it out alive... An extraordinary and gripping account of the starvation doctor from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of If You Tell.

In 1911 two British heiresses, Claire and Dora Williamson, read a brochure about a revolutionary fasting treatment that promised a lifetime of good health. The sanatorium in the village of Olalla, west of Seattle, was surrounded by a beautiful forest, sparkling waters and fresh air. The sisters agreed it sounded perfect and exactly the restorative holiday they needed.

But within a month of arriving, under the supervision of Doctor Linda Burfield Hazzard, Claire and Dora began to realise the frightening truth - they were not patients but prisoners at the isolated sanitorium.

Starved and on the edge of death, the sisters made several desperate attempts to escape. But only one would ever make it out alive.

Chilling and harrowing, Starvation Heights is a story of two vulnerable sisters, and how they were manipulated by a cunning and dangerous doctor into believing that her monstrous treatments would 'cure' them. Will totally hook fans of The Five and The Devil in the White City.

Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen was published in paperback on 19 January 2023 by Thread. My copy was gifted to me by a friend. 

I'd not heard of Doctor Linda Burfield Hazzard before beginning to read Starvation Heights, so was totally unprepared for the depths of her wickedness and the breadth of her crimes. It's all too easy for us nowadays to assume that scammers are a new thing, we blame the internet, and social media when people are manipulated and made fools of.  It is very clear that cuckoo doctors, fake medicines and outright scams are not a new thing at all, we just hear more about them these days. 

Gregg Olsen's writing style is almost novelistic in style, he not only recounts exactly what Linda Hazzard put her victims through, he does it in great depth, never fusty, as though one is reading a text book, but always intriguing, leaving the reader wanting more. 

The author begins the book in 1911. Two wealthy British sisters; Claire and Dora Williamson read a pamphlet written by Linda Hazzard. In it, she claims to be able to cure all illnesses with a simple fasting technique, and she will carry out this treatment in her sanatorium in the beautiful area of Olalla, near Seattle in the US. Claire and Dora are orphans, they have a lot of money to spend. They enjoy travel and discovering new things and they are eager to undergo treatment with the Doctor. Both of them suffer with ill health, however, it's quite obvious that they are also totally consumed by health matters, most of which are neither life threatening or dangerous. 

It only takes a few weeks for the sisters to realise that Doctor Hazzard regards them not as patients, but as prisoners, and that she takes an unhealthy interest in their financial affairs. Eventually, the sister's former nurse Margaret Conway becomes aware of the situation and makes her way to the States with the intention of getting the girls out. 

Tragedy strikes and after a long, hard fight, Linda Hazzard is charged, the details of her trial are astonishing to read. 

The author takes a look at Hazzard's earlier life, and that of her husband too. He paints a picture of a determined woman who will stop at nothing to increase her own wealth. It is strange how well respected the Hazzards were in the neighbourhood, despite the local people having sight of the patients from the clinic. Seeing the starved bodies, hearing their cries. Hazzard was a manipulative woman who created an image and a world for herself, she believed her own world, and many others did too. 

The results of the trial are startling, totally unexpected and hard to fathom.

This is a huge book, at over 500 pages, but one that intrigued me so much. I enjoyed the author's style of writing and will certainly look out more by Gregg Olsen. 

A #1 New York Times, Amazon Charts, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling
author, Gregg Olsen has written nine nonfiction books, seventeen novels, a novella, and contributed a short story to a collection edited by Lee Child.

The award-winning author has been a guest on dozens of national and local television shows, including educational programs for the History Channel, Learning Channel, and Discovery Channel.

The Deep Dark was named Idaho Book of the Year by the ILA and Starvation Heights was honoured by Washington’s Secretary of State for the book’s contribution to Washington state history and culture.

Olsen, a Seattle native, lives in Olalla, Washington with his wife, twin daughters, three chickens, Milo (an obedience school dropout cocker) and Suri (a mini dachshund so spoiled she wears a sweater).

X / Twitter @Gregg_Olsen

Instagram @greggolsen

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