Kathleen A. Cairns, the author of The Enigma Woman, is a fine historian and writer. The Enigma Woman stands up over time as a great read. It should be coming soon on Kindle. (An academic press moves slowly.) But, as the promoters say, you don't have to take my word for how good this book is. Read below what reviewrs had to say in 2007, when the book was first published.
-- Larry L. Lynch, February 2011
“A new book out this month finally tells us the entire tale of Nellie Madison for the first time, and it is so terrifically researched, so well put together, you might forget the story took place in 1934. . . . A physically lovely, beautifully produced book. . . . The Enigma Woman is top-shelf stuff for votaries of high quality historic crime stories. Professor Cairns will keep you mesmerized in contemplation of a most curious murder case, one in which our recalcitrant heroine could not speak until she was within the shadows of the gallows, one in which the victim may well have had it coming in spades and by golly got it.” —Laura James, in a May entry in CLEWS, The Historic Crime Blog
“By charting Madison’s experiences from the 1910s to the 1940s, Cairns offers critical insight on the deeds and misdeeds of one remarkable woman, who in many regards was a victim herself. By framing events the way she does, Cairns gives Madison’s story the context it needs and deserves.”—Christina Eng, San Francisco Chronicle
“Cairns tells her story with considerable sociological and psychological acuity. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this tale is how the cut-and-dried, seemingly heartless justice system of the 1930s ultimately produced a punishment that was just and enlightened and would generally satisfy today's more liberal attitudes toward spousal abuse and homicide.”—The Atlantic
Nellie was pegged by the media as a femme fatale, a character out of a noir tale. The author has done considerable research in this well-written true crime chronicle, but what happened in Nellie's bedroom in 1934 still remains an enigma. --- Publishers Weekly
Nellie May Madison got off on the wrong foot in life. …She eloped at 13, married several times, chain-smoked, drank whiskey and…shot husband No. 5. Convicted of murder, she was sentenced to death. In 1935, the state Supreme Court upheld the sentence — the first time it had done so against a woman. Madison's aloofness earned her such newspaper monikers as "Sphinx Woman" and "Iron Woman." … Supposedly on the advice of her lawyers, she lied on the witness stand, omitting the circumstances of the killing and claiming that the dead man in her apartment was a stranger. Her conduct alienated nearly everyone. "They really wanted to nail her," said Cal Poly San Luis Obispo history lecturer Kathleen A. Cairns. "They didn't like her lifestyle [nor] the fact that she didn't break down and cry." --- From a pre-publication story by Cecilia Rasmussen that appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Feb. 4, 2007