Book Review – The Devil’s Rooming House: The True Story of America’s Deadliest Female Serial Killer by M. William Phelps

Book Details
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Lyons Press
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1599216019
  • ISBN-13: 9781599216010
eBook Details
  • Platform: Nook Book
  • Pages: 320
  • Publisher: Globe Pequot Press   
  • ISBN-10: 0762762500
  • ISBN-13: 9780762762507

Date Started:  March 8, 2013
Date Finished: March 18, 2013

Rating: **/5

This was an interesting book. It is about the time in history surrounding the multiple murders committed at the Archer Home for the Elderly and Infirm. Overall, I was not very impressed with this account of Amy Archer and the crimes she committed. It felt drawn out, yet incomplete at the same time. There was so much information presented, but none of it was consistent. Some information was superfluous, some was over-abundant and some was sparse. I never could really get into the flow of this book which is such a shame because the subject matter was potential for a really great narrative.

While the book says it is about the actual Archer Home, there was far more information about what happened BEFORE people became residents there and the events going on OUTSIDE the house than any information provided about what actually happened IN the home. There is this whole long tangent that the author repeatedly goes back to about the 1911 heat wave on the East coast that has nothing to do with the topic. There is one sentence that says it was POSSIBLE Amy Archer used that time to plan out more murders, but that’s about all there was in regards to tying in that topic with the topic of the book. It would have been much better if that entire segment had been left out.

On that subject, there was another offshoot about a guy who killed himself during the heat wave. It went in-depth about this guy and about how sane and normal and accomplished he was and that many people like him killed themselves during this heat wave. It had absolutely nothing to do with Amy Archer and what she did, so I have no clue why it was included. There were a lot of little things like that throughout the book and these random wanderings made the book a bit tedious and tiresome. I was interested in the subject matter, I just didn’t want to sit there and read all this information that was never tied in with the story.

One thing I really didn’t get is why the author would talk about the subject matter, flash back to the heat wave, talk about the subject matter some more, go back to the heat wave, talk about the subject matter, do some random in-depth background on a house resident, talk about the heat wave, etc. It just didn’t make sense. The author also jumped around in his timeline instead of telling events as they happened, so it got a little confusing at times trying to figure out where in the story you were supposed to be.

Aside from the random tangents the author went on and the jumping around in the timeline, a big thing that bothered me was the development of the story. Some parts of the story were excessively developed and repeated multiple times while other parts of the story were glossed over and left you feeling like there was nothing learned. There was a lot explained about the defense attorney and how he knew the governor and that they had a law practice together before the defense attorney got called away to a war. None of that had any bearing on the story that was being told, so I don’t really understand why it was put in there. Similarly with the history of Franklin Andrews, the murder victim Amy was actually tried and convicted of murdering. There was a lot of history about his family and about how he bounced around from relative to relative before he decided to move into Archer House. There were similar stories with other residents of the home, but a majority of the back story had nothing to do with the main story. With the defense attorney, it would have sufficed to say he’d been an attorney for X amount of years and whether he owned his own practice, was partnered with others and what his success rate was. Franklin Andrews, all we needed to know about him was that he was a healthy and active individual before moving into the home, not where he lived when and with whom and for how long. The other residents didn’t need more than a paragraph of introduction because most of them were never mentioned again. And the information about each person certainly did not need to be repeated over and over again every few pages like it was with Franklin Andrews and, to some extent, Amy’s second husband.

Along with over-development  there was quite a bit of underdevelopment. The main part of the story I felt was underdeveloped was the end. It felt rushed and like he was just cramming it all in to meet a deadline. The first trial drawn out with how many hours were spent discussing forensics, but that’s about it. Having court transcripts, it would have been nice to actually see some dialogue about what was said and how the verdict came to be. Especially since the case was entirely circumstantial. Same for why the verdict was overturned and a new trial ordered. Yes, the author said that evidence that had been deemed inadmissible had been brought up in court, but nowhere does it say exactly what information, just that something had been said about someone that shouldn’t have been. The second trial felt like it was ‘blink and you’ll miss it’. I had to re-read part of it because one page it was talking about the second trial and the next page it was talking about Amy pleading guilty. Nowhere did it say anything about anyone going to anyone and discussing a plea agreement or even how they arrived at the agreement. All that was said was that there was one and Amy was going to jail. I was very dissatisfied with the abruptness of the ending. After saying she went to jail, the book goes on to mention some of her antics and that she was sent to a mental institution, but there was nothing in-depth there.

Overall, the book was okay. I don’t think I’ll ever read it again, though. I’m not entirely sure if I’ll ever read anything by this author again, but I suppose everyone deserves a second chance. The book wasn’t TERRIBLE, it just wasn’t the best true crime book I’ve ever read. I went to a college seminar given by John Douglas of the FBI when I was in middle school and I’ve read all his books where he profiles and describes serial killers and other serious offenders. I guess I’ve been spoiled by him and his in-depth insights. Kinda makes me wonder what his book about Amy Archer would be like.

Anyways, I digress. lol. This book gets two stars from me. It did have quite a bit of information, but I went to Wikipedia today and that website summed up all the pertinent information from the book and it didn’t even take me five minutes to read it. I kinda wish I’d done that to begin with. I do have to say, though, that I’ve gotten a bit curious about the 1911 heat wave and I did a little research into that, too.

Verdict: If you want to learn about Amy Archer and the Archer House, I suggest either looking it up online or finding a different book. This one left me feeling unsatisfied and like I was missing something. If you want to learn more about the era and what people of that time were like, this book might be good, but the item you’ll find the most information about in this book is the 1911 heat wave.