A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion

A Novel

A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion

Now in paperback, a novel based on the sensational 1926 Snyder/Gray murder case that inspired countless classics, from Double Indemnity to The Postman Always Rings Twice.

 Based on a real case whose lurid details scandalized Americans in 1927 and sold millions of newspapers, from the acclaimed author of Atticus and Mariette in Ecstasy comes a stylish novel set in the hard-drinking, fast-living New York City of the Jazz Age that follows two lovers in a torrid affair on an arc of murder and sexual self-destruction.

Trapped in a loveless marriage, Ruth Snyder is a voluptuous, reckless, and altogether irresistible woman who wishes not only to escape her husband but that he die—and the sooner the better. No less miserable in his own tedious marriage is Judd Gray, a dapper corset-and-brassiere salesman who travels the Northeast peddling his wares. He meets Ruth in a Manhattan diner and soon they are conducting a white-hot affair involving hotel rooms, secret letters, clandestine travels, and above all, Ruth’s increasing insistence that Judd kill her husband.

Could he do it? Would he? What follows is a thrilling exposition of a murder plan, a police investigation, the lovers’ attempt to escape prosecution, and a final reckoning for both of them that lays bare the horror and sorrow of what they have done.

Dazzlingly well-written and artfully constructed, this impossible-to-put-down story marks the return of an American master known for his elegant and vivid novels that cut cleanly to the essence of the human heart, always and at once mysterious and filled with desire.
  • Scribner | 
  • 288 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451617566 | 
  • July 2012
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Read an Excerpt

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for A Wild Surge or Guilty Passion includes an introduction, discussion questions and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


In a vivid, morbidly compelling novel of infidelity and deceit, Ron Hansen brings to life the actual events of the famed 1927 Snyder/Gray murder case—a lurid scandal shocked a nation.

Trapped in a loveless marriage, the irresistible, reckless Ruth Snyder starts an affair with owlish Judd Gray, a lingerie salesman from New Jersey boasting his own marital woes. What begins as a tryst quickly turns sinister, as Ruth and an enchanted, alcoholic Judd begin to plot the murder of Ruth’s husband Albert. From murder plan to police investigation to their murder trial, Hansen deftly recreates this famous story with sultry prose—and shows just how dangerous desire can be.  

Topics & Questions for Discussion 

1. What were your first impressions of the opening crime scene? Did you immediately expect Ruth’s involvement? Why or why not?
2. Discuss the magazine-style narration of the novel. How did this affect your reading? What did you make of the references to the future, post-t see more

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About the Author

Ron Hansen
Photograph by Charles Barry

Ron Hansen

Ron Hansen is the author of ten novels—including The Kid, Mariette in Ecstasy, Desperadoes, and A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion—and two short story collections, among them She Loves Me Not. His novel The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. He graduated from Creighton University in Omaha and went on to the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop where he studied with John Irving. He is now Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., Professor in Arts and Humanities at Santa Clara University in northern California.