One could not possibly ask for a more thorough, suspenseful, and fascinating true crime story than Allan Levine’s Details are Unprintable: Wayne Lonergan and the Sensational Café Society Murder (Lyons Press 2020). A consummate historian and writer, Levine provides a compelling account of one of the most brutal transnational murder cases of the mid-twentieth century.
The text recounts the murder of twenty-two-year-old Patricia Burton Lonergan. The young mother was discovered in the bedroom of her New York City apartment in October 1943, having been brutally beaten and left for dead. There was no question Patricia was murdered, and the police immediately began to search for suspects. Almost instantaneously, police detained Wayne Lonergan, Patricia’s estranged husband and the father of her 18-month-old child. Levine’s book recounts the twists and turns of Lonergan’s confession, arrest, trial, and conviction for the murder of his wife. However, Levine focuses on the details of the crime with a historian’s accuracy, tracing the families of the victims/killer, their geographical circumstances, social mores and laws of the time, and the press’s treatment of the case, resulting in an exhaustive account that spans decades, locations, and personages.
Levine’s attention to geographical detail is astonishing. He tracks the lives of the principal characters and their social situations with a focus and care that is admirable. This book is key for fans of Canadian history or true crime; although the murder and trial take place in New York City, Wayne Lonergan grew up in Toronto, and his life of deception and crime began there. Levine paints a picture of early-twentieth-century Toronto as an almost unrecognizable religious hub, with a small population and a familiar—if dull—routine. Levine gives a similar treatment to New York City, with its diverse social history. Levine focuses on the exclusive and extravagant café society that Patricia was heavily involved in at the time of her death. By exploring the places Patricia and Wayne came from, Levine indicates crucial factors about their characters.
One aspect of Levine’s book that I was particularly interested in was his focus on Lonergan’s queer life. As Levine points out, although the press made much of Lonergan’s bisexuality as a potential aspect of his criminal life, many previous accounts of the case have been unable to address that aspect of Lonergan’s life and how it may have motivated him to deal with police in a particular way, especially regarding his confession. Levine provides an account of the way Lonergan’s queerness would have been perceived by the heterosexual public. His analysis lends a new level of visibility to this complicated case. Levine’s direct engagement with the subject and its implications is a compelling aspect of this book.
For fans of historical writing, true crime, and little-known murder cases with complex twists and turns will love Details are Unprintable.
About the Writer:
Rachel M. Friars (she/her) is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She holds a BA and an MA in English Literature with a focus on neo-Victorianism and adaptations of Jane Eyre. Her current work centers on neo-Victorianism and nineteenth-century lesbian literature and history, with secondary research interests in life writing, historical fiction, true crime, popular culture, and the Gothic. Her academic writing has been published with Palgrave Macmillan and in The Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies. She is a reviewer for The Lesbrary, the co-creator of True Crime Index, and an Associate Editor and Social Media Coordinator for PopMeC Research Collective. Rachel is co-editor-in-chief of the international literary journal, The Lamp, and regularly publishes her own short fiction and poetry. Find her on Twitter and Goodreads.