Poison was a familiar murder weapon in Victorian England with many a tale abounding of arsenic used to gain a fortune, do away with a rival or an inconvenient spouse.
In this book James Ruddick believes he has uncovered the real truth of the perpetrator of Charles Bravo’s death by poison in 1876. Charles Bravo was a rich man who suffered an agonising death spread over three days. Poison was the culprit and the inquest into his death lasted a lengthy five weeks with journalists sending stories to all corners of England’s vast empire, but no-one was ever convicted of his murder, the problem was there were just too many suspects.
This is a fascinating portrait of the time as well as being a real life murder mystery. Ruddick begins by detailing the facts as they were presented to the inquest; scandalous evidence that included adultery and abortion. Reading between the lines there was also the more prosaic truth of the hardships of a Victorian woman, even if she was rich which Florence Draco was. Her companion Mrs Fox was not, and worse she had three young sons to support. Both women could be considered victims of circumstance and both were suspected, but never charged with, Charles Draco’s murder.
In the second part of the book Ruddick examines the evidence and details his efforts to trace the descendants of all the main parties in an attempt to flush out the truth. Does he succeed? Well some of the discrepancies highlighted in the book I had spotted by reading the evidence in the first part so the sceptical part of me is sure that others had probably spotted these before he did. I’m not entirely convinced about some of the ‘evidence’ that the families provided although one crucial piece does shed a different light on the matter. On balance I agreed with the author in his assessment of the probable perpetrator of the crime.
This was well-written and informative read and was an interesting read which included a fascinating portrait of Victorian Britain.