Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read

The Doctor’s Wife is Dead – Andrew Tierney #20booksofsummer

Historical True Crime

On 1 May 1849 Ellen Langley dies in Nengh, County Tipperary the local women gather and stone the house she was living in. Meanwhile Doctor Langley tried to go about the business of removing Ellen’s body from the house; he did, she spent two days in the garden.

This is the account of one woman’s life, a fairly indistinct figure and her sad demise and one that serves as a commentary on how women were both viewed and treated at this time, with a focus on the laws in Ireland at the time. It is clear, for whatever reason, Ellen Langley had been cast aside by her husband and in 1849 that put her in a very precarious position indeed.

This was an interesting read although the explanation of the convoluted family relations slowed pace of the book with mini-biographies of countless kith and kin, fortunately there are some family trees at the start of the book to assist the reader.

Following these early explanations we then move onto the part of the book which was far more interesting, the inquest where Doctor Langley seems at pains to exonerate himself from the faintest whiff of suspicion of wrongdoing. As a Protestant man of social standing, a man who had attended inquests as an expert witness at previous murder trials (there was far more serious crime in County Tipperary at this time than I’d imagined) it is possible that the Doctor was just pre-empting any rumours, after all the fact that his marriage to Ellen had not been happy in the last few months was no secret. Or his efforts to appear innocent were those of a man who was trying to disguise his guilt?

One of the things that always strikes me about historical true crime is how much faster the wheels of justice tended to move in those days. Archaeologist Andrew Tierney has certainly dug deep to find the documents that detail the court proceedings and has resisted what surely must have been a big temptation to flesh Ellen out with more details than are actually available. As a result she remains a shadowy being which made me feel all the more compassionate for this woman who represents so many of her time.

You can’t have a historical account in Ireland without links the conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants and while this doesn’t overshadow the court case it is useful to have the context, if only to gain an understanding of social standing. Alongside that, Ellen died during the potato famine and the author paints a desperate picture of the effect this had on the local population, the contrast between the rich and the poor being readily apparent.

This is a worthy addition to my historical true crime collection and the arrogance and lack of compassion from some players in the court room, all men of course, women were not allowed at this time, was so blatant it defied belief at times, but there is a lot to keep the reader’s attention. And then we get to the ending, court case over, The Doctor’s Wife is Dead leaves us with a surprise discovery which left me shocked.

The Doctor’s Wife is Dead was my fourth read of my 20 Books of Summer  Challenge 2017

First Published UK: 23 February 2017
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 282
Genre: True Crime – Historical
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Challenge

The Medea Complex – Rachel Florence Roberts

Historical Crime 4*'s
Historical Crime

The beginning of this book took me by surprise, for a horrible moment I thought this was going to be a poorly researched voyage into the late nineteenth century; I was wrong, this book was a mixture of authentic details of life in the changing world of lunatic asylums along with a gripping mystery about what really happened on the fateful day when Lady Anne Stanbury killed her son. So why my initial hesitation? The language used was more modern than would usually be found in historical novels which I initially found quite off-putting. Anne uses colourful language, but she was incarcerated for being insane so this is entirely fitting with the illness and later on as she makes steps towards recovery the use of profanities declines.

The story is told from multiple viewpoints including her Dr George Savage’s daily notes on his wealthy patient. Dr Savage is a leading psychiatrist at Bethlem Royal Hospital where he alone can be the one to free Anne from the hospital. The doctor is walking a thin line, as in his eagerness to see Anne become well enough to leave the hospital he starts counselling her husband, Edgar. Edgar is using alcohol as a crutch as he struggles with opposing emotions about his wife and needs all the help he can get!

For the reader who enjoys their historical mysteries to be well-plotted with a firm grip on the newest ideas of the times this is well worth a read. I confess that I had some quibbles about the language used and minor historical facts at the crux of this book were well researched providing an enjoyable read on a subject rarely covered.

When Rachel emailed me about this book I was intrigued. I suspect I know more than most people about infanticide and mental illness during this period as I was a proof-reader for my daughter’s dissertation on this very subject. As in many areas I became interested in the books and articles she carted backwards and forwards to university and soon progressed to on-line historical newspapers which covered these tragic cases. One of the related subjects that I picked up along the way was that of baby-farming. Amelia Dyer the chief perpetrator makes an appearance in the Medea Complex and although I didn’t quite agree with the context it did go some way to sum up the complex morality in late Victorian England which is neatly echoed by this accomplished debut.

I received a free copy of this book from the author in return for this honest review.

Related books click on the covers to read my reviews

Caversham Lock

The Ghost of Lily Painter

Caversham Lock
The Ghost of Lily Painter
Amelia Dyer: The Woman Who Murdered Babies for Money

The Medea Complex was my fifth read for the COYER challenge
COYER Challenge button

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…