Oh how I love a well-researched piece of historical crime and was very impressed by this author’s account of George Smith the ‘Brides in the Bath’ murderer and Dr Spilsbury who was an expert witness at this man’s trial in her book The Magnificent Spilsbury and the case of The Brides in the Bath. It was only natural then to seek out this, her next book about a Doctor who was a suspected serial killer.
John Bodkin Adams was born in Ireland, a God-fearing man born of devout parents and moved to Eastbourne with his sister and mother in 1922 where he took up a post as a General Practitioner. It must be remembered that these were the days before the NHS and so the practice was populated by the wealthier patient than a typical GP would see these days. He soon made his mark as a doctor who would turn out at any time of the day or night to attend his wealthy patients. So fond of them, especially the elder ladies, was he, that he often paid visits whether his attendance was needed or not. Jane Robins gives us an account of his years in practice, including his rather dire performance as an anaesthetist at the local hospital.
As interesting as this background is of course I wanted to know about the investigation and subsequent trial. It all started in July 1956 Eastbourne Police received a call about the death of one Gertrude known as Bobbie Hullett who had died, unexpectedly whilst in Dr Adams care, she was only 50 years old. A month later the Metropolitan Police took over from the local force. Detective Superintendent Herbert Hannam and Detective Sergeant Charles Hewett interviewed many residents of genteel Eastbourne where all manner of rumours were uncovered reaching back to the 1930s of inheritance of money and cars and other strange bequests but equally there were testimonials from those who adored the portly doctor. So death certificates were examined, as were wills because Hannam was convinced that Dr Adams was killing for cash and so began the laborious task of sifting through the paper trail.
Jane Robins is brilliant at presenting the facts and opposing views of this trial without seemingly steering the reader’s opinion one way or another for the bulk of the book. This could have been really heavy going with prescriptions for heroin, morphine and other sedatives frequently appearing as evidence along with bequests or presents of the odd gold pen here or a Rolls Royce there and a seemingly never-ending ream of elderly ladies doting on Dr Adams, but it wasn’t I just became more and more fascinated by the tale told complete with contemporary news stories and advertisements and a brilliant reconstruction of the world of the genteel inhabitants of Eastbourne at that time. All of this served to increase my interest in the hidden character of the man. And that is where the author comes into her own when at the end of the book, after the trial and when life in Eastbourne had recovered from all the excitement, she examined the psyche of the Doctor and presented her conclusions, with the help of a couple of expert witnesses of her own.
An absolutely brilliant read which I can’t recommend enough and for those of us who remember the more recent trial and conviction of Dr Harold Shipman, there are plenty of comparisons to be made.
This was addition to my 20 Books of Summer 2016 Challenge, and one I certainly won’t forget in a hurry.