Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

Poison Panic – Helen Barrell

Non-Fiction
4*s

In the 1840s the level of literacy was still low across the United Kingdom, but stories of crimes committed didn’t need to be read by everyone for them to spread, especially when the crime was murder, even more so if committed by a woman and panic inducing when the means by which a person was slayed was poison.

In Essex the county was the unfortunate scene of the panic induced by tales told both orally and by the newspapers about a number of women put on trial for poisoning unwanted relations using arsenic. There were calls for regulations and a strong sense that there was a shadowy group of women who were acting in cahoots or at least devising a method to poison people and walk away from the horrific crime with no stain on their character.

Helen Barrell’s book, Poison Panic, delves into the facts, and the fiction, of these events using all available sources to examine the cases and to evaluate whether there was any sense of collusion between the women whose crimes feature here.
This book is jam-packed, not just with the details of the three women Sarah Chesham Mary May and Hannah Southgate whose crimes in rural Essex led to wariness about that gentle hand at home who was in charge of preparing the food, slipping some of the notorious white powder into the dish, but also on some of the social history. We learn just how rudimentary their homes were, the rats that plagued the household were hopefully kept at bay with arsenic, houses where one man’s struggle with the results of arsenic poisoning were more than a slight inconvenience for his downstairs neighbours and houses where money from a burial club might just make it worthwhile to bump of an unsuspecting relative?

I’m a fan of investigations into Victorian crimes and can only applaud Helen Barrell in her presentation of the interlinking stories in Essex. With plenty of pictures, including photographs, illustrations from the magazine Punch as well as the very useful maps that underpin how closely or conversely how far apart the women lived from each other in a time where transport for wives of agricultural labourers wasn’t an option. To give a little perspective the author uses information from her own family in the village of Wix to give some context to the scene of crime. The author uses the Census of 1841 to provide additional evidence as well as the newspapers of the time who went to the same sort of lengths they do nowadays to keep the reader’s attention. It is fascinating to see how years after the poisonings these stories were wheeled out, dusted down complete with inaccuracies and served up fresh for what was sometimes a whole new generation of readers years after the events.

All fascinating stuff but for me, having read quite a large amount about this particular crime over the last couple of years, it is good to have some real cases that directly influenced the government to act in bringing in laws surrounding the sale of poison. Not, as the author is keen to point out that those early laws would have stopped the three women investigated in this book getting their hands on the white stuff.

Poison Panic was the thirty-first read in my Mount TBR Challenge and I’d like to thank the author for a comprehensive visit to Essex to examine these arsenic poisonings in the 1840s.

mount-tbr-2017

 

First Published UK: 30 June 2016
Publisher: Pen and Sword History
No of Pages: 224
Genre: Non-Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Weekly Posts

This Week in Books (November 29)

This Week In Books
Hosted by Lipsy Lost & Found my Wednesday post gives you a taste of what I am reading this week. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words

I am currently reading The Dress Thief by Natalie Meg Evens as a change from all things dark and dastardly.

Blurb

Alix Gower may be poor but she’s also ambitious, and she’d do anything to secure her dream job in one of Paris’s premier fashion houses. But Alix also has a secret: she supports her family by stealing from the very houses she so adores.
But can Alix risk her reputation and her relationships forever? And is the handsome English reporter she keeps bumping into really to be trusted? Amazon

I have just finished reading Poison Panic: Arsenic deaths in 1840s Essex by Helen Barrell as I thought it was perfect timing, now that we are thinking about the big Christmas dinner, to brush up on poisoners…

Blurb

For a few years in the 1840s, Essex was notorious in the minds of Victorians as a place where women stalked the winding country lanes looking for their next victim to poison with arsenic. It’s a terrible image – and also one that doesn’t seem to have much basis in truth – but this was a time of great anxiety.

The 1840s were also known as the ‘hungry ’40s’, when crop failures pushed up food prices and there was popular unrest across Europe. The decade culminated in a cholera epidemic in which tens of thousands of people in the British Isles died. It is perhaps no surprise that people living through that troubled decade were captivated by the stories of the ‘poisoners’: that death was down to ‘white powder’ and the evil intentions of the human heart.

Sarah Chesham, Mary May and Hannah Southgate are the protagonists of this tale of how rural Essex, in a country saturated with arsenic, was touched by the tumultuous 1840s. Amazon

Next I intend to read Give Me The Child by Mel McGrath which was published to great acclaim earlier this year.

Blurb

Imagine your doorbell rings in the middle of the night.
You open the door to the police.
With them is your husband’s eleven-year-old love child. A daughter you never knew he had.
Her mother has been found dead in their south London flat.
She has nowhere else to go.
WOULD YOU TAKE HER IN? Amazon

What do you think? Any of these take your fancy? Please do leave your thoughts in the comments box below.

Posted in Weekly Posts

Weekly Wrap Up (October 2)

Weekly Wrap Up

A brief post today as I came down with a nasty bug which has meant not only impacted my posts; just one review of Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10, but also my reading. Dear readers will appreciate this was no normal chest infection, it must have been serious if I was unable to read!!

My weekly posts for Tuesday and Wednesday were already scheduled and went out without me but I did manage to support blogging buddy Lipsyy from Lipsyy  Lost and Found for her inspirational event for Horror October this year – she’s organised some writers to come up with a story based on our ideas – hope over to yesterday’s post, or Lipsyy’s blog to vote!

 

This Time Last Year….

I was reading Boxes by Pascal Garnier, the first dark and disturbing novella I read by this man who reminds me a little of Roald Dahl with his acute observations with sinister undertones.

Boxes

Blurb

He was the sole survivor of the natural disaster that at one time or another strikes us all, known as ‘moving house’. Brice and Emma had bought their new home in the countryside together. And then she disappeared.

Stacking the Shelves

So even though I’ve been in my sick-bed the books have continued to roll in – amazing!

I ordered myself the The Man Booker shortlisted book His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

his-bloody-project

Blurb

The year is 1869. A brutal triple murder in a remote community in the Scottish Highlands leads to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae. A memoir written by the accused makes it clear that he is guilty, but it falls to the country’s finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to commit such merciless acts of violence. Was he mad? Only the persuasive powers of his advocate stand between Macrae and the gallows.

Graeme Macrae Burnet tells an irresistible and original story about the provisional nature of truth, even when the facts seem clear.
His Bloody Project is a mesmerising literary thriller set in an unforgiving landscape where the exercise of power is arbitrary. Amazon

And because I can’t ever just order one book I decided my stock of books about poisoning wasn’t nearly huge enough I also have a copy of Poison Panic by Helen Barrell.

poison-panic

Blurb

For a few years in the 1840s, Essex was notorious in the minds of Victorians as a place where women stalked the winding country lanes looking for their next victim to poison with arsenic. It’s a terrible image – and also one that doesn’t seem to have much basis in truth – but this was a time of great anxiety.
The 1840s were also known as the ‘hungry ’40s’, when crop failures pushed up food prices and there was popular unrest across Europe. The decade culminated in a cholera epidemic in which tens of thousands of people in the British Isles died. It is perhaps no surprise that people living through that troubled decade were captivated by the stories of the ‘poisoners’: that death was down to ‘white powder’ and the evil intentions of the human heart.
Sarah Chesham, Mary May and Hannah Southgate are the protagonists of this tale of how rural Essex, in a country saturated with arsenic, was touched by the tumultuous 1840s. Amazon

From NetGalley I was approved for The Blood Card by Elly Griffiths as I’m a big fan of this series featuring Stephens & Mesphito with their historical mysteries.

the-blood-card

Blurb

On the eve of the Queen’s coronation, DI Stephens and Max Mephisto uncover an anarchist plot and a ticking bomb at the same time as solving the murder of a man close to them – from the author of the bestselling Dr Ruth Galloway mysteries.
Elizabeth II’s coronation is looming, but the murder of their wartime commander, Colonel Cartwright, spoils the happy mood for DI Edgar Stephens and magician Max Mephisto. A playbill featuring another deceased comrade is found in Colonel Cartwright’s possession, and a playing card, the ace of hearts: the blood card. The wartime connection and the suggestion of magic are for Stephens and Mephisto to be summoned to the case.

Edgar’s ongoing investigation into the death of Brighton fortune-teller Madame Zabini is put on hold. Max is busy rehearsing for a spectacular Coronation Day variety show – and his television debut – so it’s Edgar who is sent to New York, a land of plenty worlds away from still-rationed England. He’s on the trail of a small-town mesmerist who may provide the key, but someone silences him first. It’s Edgar’s colleague, DS Emma Holmes, who finds the clue, buried in the files of the Zabini case, that leads them to an anarchist group intent on providing an explosive finale to Coronation Day.

Now it’s up to Edgar, Max and Emma to foil the plot, and find out who it is who’s been dealing the cards . . . NetGalley

I also was lucky enough to win a copy of The Devil’s Work by Mark Edwards from Abbie at Bloomin’ Brilliant Books, a blog full of reviews of just the kind of books I love, in fact, they are Bloomin’ Brilliant so if you haven’t already done so!

the-devils-work

Blurb

It was the job she had dreamed of since childhood. But on her very first day, when an unnerving encounter drags up memories Sophie Greenwood would rather forget, she wonders if she has made a mistake. A fatal mistake.
What is her ambitious young assistant really up to? And what exactly happened to Sophie’s predecessor? When her husband and daughter are pulled into the nightmare, Sophie is forced to confront the darkest secrets she has carried for years.
As her life begins to fall apart at work and at home, Sophie must race to uncover the truth about her new job…before it kills her. Amazon

PicMonkey Collage TBR

TBR WATCH

Since my last post I have only read 3 books, and gained 4 and so my TBR now totals 181 books!

92 physical books
69 e-books
20 books on NetGalley

What have you found to read this week?