What's it about?
America’s First Female Serial Killer novelizes the true story of first-generation Irish-American nurse Jane Toppan, born as Honora Kelley. Although all the facts are intact, books about her life and her crimes have been all facts and no story, until now.
Jane Toppan was absolutely a monster, but she did not start out that way. When Jane was a young child, her widower father surrendered her and her sister to the Boston Female Asylum. Jane was then indentured to a wealthy family who changed her name, never adopted her, wrote her out of the will, and essentially taught her how to hate herself. Jilted at the altar, Jane became a nurse and took control of her life and the lives of her victims.
Where can I get it?
America’s First Female Serial Killer is available for pre-order in so many places!
And most of your local bookstores will carry it for you, if you just ask them!
What are people saying?
Jane Toppan should be known as well as Jack the Ripper: America's first female serial killer and an angel of death with dozens of victims, but also a victim herself. Mary Kay McBrayer's novel gives voice to Toppan, never apologizing, but explaining how this invisible woman refused to be ignored by racking up a body count. Her story has become as neglected as her life, but McBrayer restores her to her place in our history of complicated, upsetting women who refused to comply with their own oppression, often violently.
—Grady Hendrix, author of Final Girl Support Club and The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires
Mary Kay McBrayer's book brings the horrifying true story of Jane Toppan to lurid, novelistic life, and forces the reader face-to-face with the thoughtlessness and cruelty that helped turn a gifted, damaged child into one of America's most legendary killers. A heartbreaking page-turner of a book, and a story as sadly relevant today as it was a century ago.
—Shaun Hamill, author of A Cosmology of Monsters
I found it difficult to put down this cinematic retelling of a troubled and murderous (yet charismatic and scientifically bright) mind from America's Gilded Age. Using vivid scene work and insight, Mary Kay McBrayer shows us more than just a portrait of a killer; she argues, with deft and horrific storytelling, the most extreme effects of our class system's tendency to marginalize, and ultimately de-humanize, so many of its citizens.
—Elena Passarello, author of Animals Strike Curious Poses and Let Me Clear My Throat
Jane Toppan's legacy may have been written in strychnine, but it is Mary Kay McBrayer who finds Jolly Jane's voice in this captivating, empathetic exploration into one of America's most prolific serial killers.
—Clay McLeod Chapman, author of The Remaking
Mary Kay McBrayer has written a thoughtful and inspired take on one of the greatest poisoners in history. America's First Female Serial Killer: Jane Toppan and the Making of a Monster seethes with rage, compulsion, and a righteous condemnation of the servitude of the underclass. A chilling and sobering read.
—Robert Levy, author of The Glittering World and Anaïs Nin at the Grand Guignol
I love this book; it's like Stephen King's Misery as told by Shirley Jackson... a book as steady, precise, and twisted as Toppan's murders. And somehow it's laced with whimsy too. At the heart of the mystery, and the core of the book's tantalizing design, is the question: How did she get by with it? The answer lies, wickedly, in a story of trust and service, and the invisibility that comes with it all.
—Timothy Schaffert, The Perfume Thief and The Swan Gondola
In America’s First Female Serial Killer, Mary Kay McBrayer brilliantly presents one of the most fascinating serial killers in American history—and not just because the killer was a woman. McBrayer digs into the troubled life of Jane Toppan, who is by far one of the most disturbing ‘angels of death’ found in the annals of murder. What McBrayer offers us is a complex—and terrifying—portrait of a killer who seemed almost doomed from birth.
—Kate Winkler Dawson, author of American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI
America's First Female Serial Killer is more than a book about murder; it's a recipe for creating monsters. McBrayer has turned knowledge into a gripping narrative and cold facts into a full, painful life to show us how wanting to be needed can turn a normal person into a heartless fiend. This is Capote's In Cold Blood for serial killer enthusiasts: meticulously researched, superbly written, and incredibly vivid. Don't miss it.
—Gabino Iglesias, author of Zero Saints and Coyote Songs
America's First Female Serial Killer sheds light on the horrifying – but long neglected – story of Jane Toppan, the nurse with the dubious honour of being America’s first female serial killer. Toppan’s own confession stated that she had dispatched 31 victims through poisoning – but her motives are contradictory and unclear. In this compelling and creative book, McBrayer unravels the threads of Jane Toppan’s narrative to see what we can discover of the woman beneath. It’s a startling picture of sociopath quite unlike any other, told through the fragmented stories of those people who were unfortunate enough to cross paths with Jane Toppan. Complex, contradictory and cold, these stories offer the reader a chance to look behind the curtain and see what turned Honora Kelley, a young girl of Irish heritage left in the care of the Boston Female Asylum, into Jane Toppan, one of the most prolific and complex serial killers in America’s history.
—Dr. Hannah Priest, Manchester, editor of She-Wolf: A Cultural History of Female Werewolves