Sarah Weinman's true-crime novel is a story of wrongful exoneration about killer Edgar Smith and the prominent crusaders who fell prey to his charm.

Sarah Weinman

Having spent almost half his lifetime in California's state penitentiary system, convicted killer Edgar Smith died in obscurity in 2017 at the age of 83 — a miracle, really, as he was meant to be executed nearly six decades earlier. Tried and convicted in the state of New Jersey for the 1957 murder of 15-year-old Victoria Zielinski, Smith was once the most famous convict in America.

Scoundrel tells the true, almost-too-bizarre story of a man saved from Death Row by way of an unlikely friendship—developed in nearly 2000 pages of prison correspondence — with National Review founder William F. Buckley, Jr., one of the most famous figures in the neo-conservative movement. Buckley wrote articles, fundraised and hired lawyers to fight for a new trial, eventually enlisting the help of Sophie Wilkins, a book editor with whom Smith would have a torrid epistolary affair. As a result of these friends' advocacy, Smith not only gained his freedom, he vaulted to the highest intellectual echelons as a bestselling author, an expert on prison reform, and a minor celebrity — only to fall, spectacularly, back to earth, when his murderous impulses once more prevailed.

Weinman's Scoundrel is a gripping investigation into a case where crime and culture intersect, where recent memory begins to slide into history and where the darkest of violent impulses meet literary ambition, human ego and hunger for fame. (From Penguin Random House Canada)

Scoundrel is available in February 2022.

Sarah Weinman is a journalist and author based in New York City. Her other novels include The Real Lolita, which tells the tale of the life of 11-year-old Sally Horner, who was abducted in 1948 and who's story inspired Vladimir Nabokov's seminal novel Lolita. The Real Lolita won the Arthur Ellis Award for best nonfiction crime book.

Interviews with Sarah Weinman

Sarah Weinman on her true-crime thriller Scoundrel, about a convicted killer who conned his way to freedom from Death Row.
In episode two of The Backlist, a series about Canadian novels that have fallen out of public memory - or never got the attention they deserved in the first place - writer Sarah Weinman discusses Basic Black with Pearls by Helen Weinzweig.

The real Lolita

4 years ago
Duration 0:55
The kidnapping of 11-year-old Sally Horner inspired Vladimir Nabokov's famous novel Lolita, but she died before the novel was published. Sarah Weinman, author of The Real Lolita, says she can't stop thinking about this photograph — and what Sally would have thought about Nabokov's novel.
Sarah Weinman tells Michael Enright about a candid photograph of Sally that has stayed with her.
In 1948, an 11-year-old girl named Sally Horner was kidnapped by a convicted rapist who made her pretend to be his daughter. Her ordeal inspired Vladimir Nabokov's controversial novel Lolita - but Sally's story has been forgotten, and she died before she had a chance to tell it herself. Michael speaks with Sarah Weinman, the author of 'The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World'.

Other books by Sarah Weinman

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