Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse – Piu Marie Eatwell

Historical Crime 5*'s
Historical Crime
5*’s

Piu Marie Eatwell has chosen one of the most fantastical of legal trials that spanned the late Victorian to the Edwardian period for another entry into the genre of turning well-researched historical crimes into an accessible book for non-academics.

The journey the author takes us through started in 1898 when a widow named Anna Maria Druce applied for the exhumation of the grave of her late father-in-law, Thomas Charles Druce. Mr Druce had been a furniture dealer, owning the Baker Street Bazaar, a forerunner of what we know as a department store, but Anna Maria believed that he had been the alter ego of the eccentric 5th Duke of Portland. Her claims meant that Tomas Druce had faked his death in 1864 and spent the next fifteen living at the ducal seat, Welbeck Abbey in Worksop, Nottinghamshire.

WelbeckAbbeyJonesViews1829

Welbeck Abbey 1829 – Wikipedia

 

This real life drama ended up spanning an entire decade after Anna Maria’s request for the grave in Highgate Cemetery being refused but with the discovery that Thomas Druce had been married before. Both men were eccentrics, Thomas Druce refused to reveal any details about his early life, he had fixed habits and moved his family frequently from property to property whereas the Duke was rarely seen in public, had an aversion to sunlight and spent his time at Welbeck Abbey constructing a series of tunnels and rooms underground. Who can deny that fact is often stranger than fiction?

The beauty of this book, and others of its ilk like The Suspicion of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale or The Magnificent Spilsbury and the case of the Brides in the Bath by Jane Robins, is that they give a real feel for the time as well as providing us with well-researched historical evidence. This tale is complex, particularly as it is full of claim, counter-claim, hypothesis and, on the flip-side lies and forgeries, but the chapters are divided up to give background to the next part as well as the new revelations that kept the courts, and the media, busy. A story running for so long had the public eager to find out the latest, especially as the revelations uncovered some behaviour that was definitely against the morals of the time.

The story doesn’t end when the mystery is resolved, the police were also kept busy following up some of the claims made including Inspector Dew who became known for his apprehension of Dr Crippen which meant for me, this story had links to other true crimes committed in the same period, presumably so few were the members of the newly formed CID that his career saw a wide variety of criminals. Mentions are also made of the love of Sherlock Holmes but without it feeling like the author was trying to cram every detail into the book.

Apart from in the first chapter where the author gives us a potted history of the ownership of Welbeck Abbey, the book couldn’t read less like a history book so well thought out is the structure making it an immensely readable and enjoyable piece of what must have been months of research.

Dcwalterdew

DC Walter Dew Circa 1887 – Wikipedia

I’d like to thank Midas PR or allowing me to read a copy of this book for review purposes, it will now stand next to the rest of my historical crime selection on my bookshelf. The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse was published by Head of Zeus in hardback in September 2014 and the author will be on tour in the UK during the summer of 2015.

Piu Marie Eatwell Piu Marie Eatwell has a fascinating background – an ex-lawyer and TV producer, she      used to produce a number of historical documentaries for the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. She now lives in Paris with her family. Her first book They Eat Horses, Don’t They? busted common myths and misconceptions about the French and was highly acclaimed.

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

A Very British Murder – Lucy Worsley

Non-Fiction 5*'s
Non-Fiction
5*’s

Written to accompany a BBC TV series this book is a great read for anyone like me who loves crimes, history and books as Lucy Worsley traces the history of our interest in murder over the last two hundred years. Prior to that she states that everyone was far more concerned with the everyday battles to feed and clothe themselves, however with the rise in literacy levels amongst the population, murder became a source of entertainment.

In researching the national obsession with murder the author gives some interesting facts and figures, who would have thought two and a half million people bought the ‘authentic’ memoirs of murderess Maria Manning in 1849? Charles Dickens went on to fictionalise Maria in his novel Bleak House where she appeared as the murderous maid Hortense after he was part of a crowd of an estimated thirty thousand spectators to her hanging. That’s right thirty thousand people went to see an execution and needed five hundred policemen to keep them in check!

This book which starts by covering real murders which were written up into broadsheets to be sold by peddlers at fairs and executions, to covering those crimes used to inspire fiction and then, following the introduction of the first detectives, their fictional counterparts began to flourish. The author explains the introduction of forensics in bringing the criminals to justice in a straightforward way although Nigel McCrery’s Silent Witnesses is essential reading to understand the history behind this subject. Maybe because it was originally written TV series the narrative does jump backwards and forwards a little at times but I still found it easy to follow the point the author was attempting to make in each of the twenty-four chapters.

The book looks at the lives of the authors who were part of the ‘Golden Age’ of crime fiction including Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie as well as the part they played in the rapid growth in popular crime fiction and finishes with the decline of the genteel murderer to the more thriller based popular fiction that we still enjoy today.

As a look at the changing nature of the types of books the nation read as well as illustrating some of the true-life crimes of the period this is an excellent read.

The author draws heavily on the work of Judith Flanders from her book An Invention of Murder which I am now going to have to buy for a more in depth look at the crimes which provided the nation with entertainment during the Victorian period.

The Invention of Murder

One of the early detectives featured is Mr Whicher the man who inspired the fantastic read The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale which I read before I started reviewing but still sits on my bookshelf!

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

To find see my review of Silent Witnesses by Nigel McCrery click on the book cover

Non-Fiction 5*'s
Non-Fiction
5*’s