cover image The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth

The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth

Josh Levin. Little, Brown, $29 (432p) ISBN 978-0-316-51330-2

When Ronald Reagan campaigned for the presidency, he referred frequently to a Chicago woman who “used eighty names, thirty addresses, and twelve Social Security cards to collect all kinds of public benefits.” Reagan made that woman a symbol for “a whole class of people who were getting something they didn’t deserve” as part of his assault on the welfare state. Slate editorial director Levin’s dogged investigative work in his impressive debut reveals the truth behind Reagan’s claims, presenting the stranger-than-fiction story of that woman, who called herself Linda Taylor (among numerous other names). Taylor stole more than $150,000 in public assistance in one year, and had planned to “open a medical office, posing as a doctor.” Levin makes the complex narrative accessible by using an indefatigable Chicago police detective, Jack Sherwin, as his initial protagonist. In 1974, Sherwin responded to a bogus burglary complaint filed by Taylor, who alleged that the criminal had somehow managed to shove a jumbo fridge through a very small window. Sherwin’s probe into the suspicious “victim” revealed that Taylor was a recidivist scam artist. Levin uncovers more criminality in Taylor’s history—including child abuse, abduction, and a possible murder—spanning a half-century beginning in 1944. Levin’s piecing together of interviews, court documents, and other records paint as complete a picture as possible of an unrepentant career criminal who was turned into a stereotype for political purposes. Those interested in U.S. urban culture of another era will also be intrigued. [em]Agent: Alia Habib, The Gernert Co. (May) [/em]