Deja Who (Insighter #1)

Deja Who (Insighter #1)

MaryJanice Davidson

For the victims like Mary Jane Kelly and Isabella Mowbray,

whose lot it was to suffer undeservedly.

   And for the watchers of the world like Louise élisabeth de Cro?

and Mary Moormon, whose lot was to survive,

and tell us what they survived.


Sources for some of the historical figures mentioned in this book are Wikipedia, because nothing says exacting research more than relying on a resource anyone can change at any time. Oh, and Because they are hilarious. I really need to pitch an article to those bums. To quote another historical figure (Madonna): “I am not ashamed.”

All the (fictional) characters’ past lives are based on (real) people, sometimes pretty roughly. Not much is known about Jack the Ripper’s fifth victim, Mary Jane Kelly; I researched the poor woman as well as I could, then made up a few things, such as how she may have felt about her hometown of Limerick, Ireland.

I took the same liberties with Mary Ann Cotton’s poor, doomed daughter, Isabella, whom she poisoned in 1867. Mary Ann killed thirteen people before Isabella, and seven more after, all family members. She explained this away by telling authorities how “weak stomachs” ran in the family. Nobody blinked when her husband(s) and stepchildren succumbed to the hereditary “weak stomach” they did not inherit. Interestingly, reporters caught on before the cops did. And by “interestingly,” I mean “how the hell did the cops not catch on to this?”

(I know, I know: I wasn’t there, I’m Monday morning quarterbacking, I’m neither a cop nor a doc, etc. And you’d be right; I wasn’t there, and I’m not a cop nor a doc. I didn’t even go to college. But come on. Hereditary? For victims who were not blood relatives and thus did not inherit jack shit? Come on. Gad, this happened over a century ago and I’m still super pissed about it.)

Albert DeSalvo did not, to the best of my knowledge, have a sibling; I made one up for the purposes of storytelling. And recent research, including DNA evidence, has suggested more than one person was responsible for the Boston Strangler murders, which screws up my book, so I’m ignoring the DNA evidence, which is my right as an American.

Leah makes mention of Lavinia Fisher, who is generally acknowledged as the first female mass murderer in the United States. Born in 1793, Lavinia and her husband opened a hotel in South Carolina, as people have a right to do, and started robbing and murdering their guests, which is frowned upon. The number of their victims is unknown, and their method of execution was pretty foolproof, to a point. Lavinia would ply the guest with (poisoned) tea, and then her husband would creep up to the guest’s room after the poison had taken effect, stab him to make sure he was super-duper dead, and rob him. The plan broke down when they ran across a guest who hated tea and poured it out when Lavinia wasn’t looking. (D’oh!) It all went to hell from there, possibly literally in Lavinia’s case.

Interestingly, once she knew she was to be executed, Lavinia informed the authorities that they couldn’t hang a married woman. They agreed . . . and hanged her husband the day before. (The gentlemanly thing to do, I suppose. Apparently hanging a widow is a little more chivalrous.) Her last words were along the lines of, “If anyone has a message for the devil, give it to me.” So she was also something of a stickler for passing on messages to Satan.

The mayor of Boston is my homage to one of my favorite authors, Carl Hiaasen, who is funnier on his worst day than I am on my best. I fell in love with his characters years ago, in particular Clinton “Skink” Tyree, former governor of Florida, current full-time forest hermit, and my current literary crush. If you haven’t checked Hiaasen out, you’re missing some of the funniest lectures on how we’re ruining the planet.

Hiaasen is not a fan of urban development, and he’s cursed with the nutty idea that maybe every single square inch of Florida should not be made of concrete. He lets readers know that he disapproves of the daily raping of his home state, in the best possible way. Run, don’t walk. Start with Double Whammy or Striptease. Then become resigned to getting hooked and plowing through his backlist. Damn you, Hiaasen. Now I care.

All that to say the scandals that led the mayor of Boston to live in a Chicago public park are based on real-life “racist but not really” comments featuring David Howard, former head of the Office of Public Advocate, and Kenneth Mayfield, former Texas county commissioner. Both men were forced to make amends for 1) correctly using a scientific term as well as an adjective with Old Norse roots, and 2) not being racists. Seriously. Look it up if you don’t believe me. It’s as hilarious as it is depressing. I love when the media tells us what to think. I hate when we obey.

The college degrees Leah ponders in the first chapters actually exist. Yep. You can get a degree in growing marijuana and auctioneering.

The hospital Leah threatens a patient with, Chicago-Read, has a nasty rep in real life. Established in the mid-1800s, it was a hospital for (as they say in comic books) “the criminally insane” with all the shenanigans that implies. Corpses have gone missing. Patients have committed suicide, succeeding in large part due to the poor supervision. (The attending physician at the time of inpatient Martha Grote’s suicide declared he “would rather have lost a month’s salary than have this thing happen.” Really? A whole month? 1 month’s salary = 1 human life? That’s terrifying math, doc.) In 1901, nurses starved two patients to death. Unsanitary conditions and broken equipment have been thoroughly documented, and in 1993, it lost its accreditation. (Yeah, finally, right?)

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