Perfect reading for cold, dark nights, Starvation Heights is a fantastic helping of true crime that reads like a thriller that will have you constantly scurrying to the kitchen for sandwiches, as well as giving a wide berth to anyone who sets themselves up as a health guru.
In 1911, two wealthy British sisters – of the type that my line of work tends to call the ‘worried well’ – travelled to the United States in order to undergo the ‘fasting cure’ in the sanitarium of Dr Linda Burfield Hazzard. Buying into ‘Dr’ Hazzard’s assertions that every single one of their non-issues could be cured by fasting, the sisters were dumped in a shack on the edge of Hazzard’s property (a far cry from the fancy sanitarium they’d been promised), had their money, possessions and power of attorney wrenched from them, and were administered extreme enemas whilst being beaten (‘massaged’ – although massages involve less punching where I’m from) and starved past the point of being able to function. The first part of the book deals with the experience of the sisters’ at ‘Dr’ Hazzard’s hands, and reads like an extremely effective horror/thriller. I could barely stop turning the pages throughout this part, only really stopping to yell at the people within the pages.
Upon the extremely awful death of Claire, the sisters’ friends and family attempted to intervene in order to spare Dora the same fate, only to find that not only were the sisters not the first victims of ‘Dr’ Hazzard and her fasting ‘cure’ but also that the American authorities weren’t at all interested in putting a stop to it. It would take extreme effort on the part of the British Consul and Government to get the case anywhere near a courtroom, and the second part of the book deals with this fight to get to court, as well as the eventual outcome.
I found Olsen to be a compelling writer (especially when writing from the sisters’ perspective in the first part), although to be fair it was pretty much a given that I’d enjoy this given my appetite for things both historical and murderous. If you’re anything at all like me, you could do a lot worse than picking this up.