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

The Lady in the Cellar – Sinclair McKay

Non Fiction
5*s

So the darker nights have encouraged another foray into Victorian true crime with this, the second book I have read by Sinclair McKay this year.

The Lady in the Cellar refers to a Miss Matilda Hacker who was found amongst the coal in a cellar in a boarding house in Euston Square in London.  She’d been dead for quite some time by the time her body was found in 1879 and at first the police were at a loss even as to her identity. You see her final resting place in a boarding house in a fast expanding London lends itself to a more anonymous lifestyle, one where the occupants lived alongside strangers in rooms of varying sizes and facilities.
Matilda Hacker was an eccentric, she’d moved to London from her native Canterbury on her sister’s death – these two spinsters were a familiar site when they took their daily promenade in their lavish silk dresses, dresses which were far too youthful for the ‘elderly’ women who wore them. After her sister’s death she moved away pursued for rates and other bills she could easily afford to pay and took up residence in boarding houses in the capital. The rise of this ‘new’ way of living is expertly explained within the book.

When she came to Mr and Mrs Bastendorff’s bording house it was to be given a furnished room, the use of the water closet and a cupboard to store food and other perishables. She could buy her own food for the servant, Hannah Dobbs, to cook or she could give Hannah to fetch the items herself both means were used to be fed, watered and generally kept an eye on. As Matilda Hacker was in her late sixties by this time, it doesn’t seem to bad a way of life.

We are also treated to the background of the Bastendorffs, the move of Severin from his native Luxembourg to London alongside his sister and a troupe of brothers is also a fascinating insight into how foreigners assimilated into life at this point in history. Severin was a furniture maker who had set up his own business by the time a body was found in the basement of his house. His wife was English and the pair had four small children. This was the rise of the middle classes, the house, the servant and regular income from the business in the back yard as well as the money they made by renting out rooms within their stylish house.

As you can tell there is plenty of contemporary details to be gleaned and Sinclair McKay presents his story well, long before we get to the trial, which lets face it is where the fun begins. The police decided that the perpetrator was Hannah Dobbs, yes the servant! That must have caused more than a little disquiet amongst the middle-classes, no-one wants a murderer living in their home. There were links to pawn-brokers amongst other clues as to what happened to Matilda’s belongings, but the trial was only the beginning.

This was a meaty story with the tendrils once again illustrating that the Victorians were not quite how they have been painted in more recent history. For those of us who were taught they were all prudes, this seems far from the racy story that Hannah sold to the papers! If you want to know more, you really should read The Lady in the Cellar.

I’d like to thank the publishers White Lion Publishing for allowing me to be immersed into this story that ends sadly for more than one of those who, perhaps completely innocently, got caught up in a murder that captured the nation’s attention. This unbiased review is my thanks to them, and to Sinclair McKay for his diligent research which was relayed to this reader in such a well-structured manner that it became a compulsive read.

First Published UK:  6 September 2018
Publisher: White Lion Publishing
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Non Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Weekly Posts

This Week in Books (October 10)

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

Buoyed up by last weeks rare occurrence of actually finishing three whole books I’m hoping this week’s choices are equally successful.

My current read is one of my own books, and unsurprisingly for me, book three of a series and yes, I’ve not read any others about Sister Agnes!  The Dying Light by Alison Joseph has been on the TBR since 27 October 2014 and it’s starts well…

Blurb

Young and fiercely independent, Sister Agnes Bourdillon has never felt the need of a wimple to express her spirituality. But her strength is tested by her secondment to Silworth, a South London women’s prison.

She does, however, find the work compelling, as she attempts to negotiate the network of bullies and victims, loyalties and hatreds, prisoners and jailers, searching to understand the often violent histories that lie behind each woman.

Then the father of Cally Fisher, one of the most turbulent inmates, is shot dead. The chief suspect is Cally’s boyfriend. Reminded unnervingly of how she is losing her own mother, who is rapidly retreating from reality in a French nursing home, Agnes finds that she too has become entangled in a dark world that stretches further than the prison walls… Amazon

The last book I finished was Sinclair McKay’s Victorian True Crime book The Lady in the Cellar which has recently been published.



Blurb

Number 4 Euston Square was a respectable boarding house, well-kept and hospitable, like many others in Victorian London. But beneath this very ordinary veneer, there was a murderous darkness at its heart.

On 8th May 1879, the corpse of former resident, Matilda Hacker, was uncovered by chance in the coal cellar. The investigation that followed this macabre discovery stripped bare the shadow-side of Victorian domesticity, throwing the lives of everyone within into an extraordinary and destructive maelstrom. For someone in Number 4 Euston Square must have had full knowledge of what had happened to Matilda Hacker. Someone in that house had killed her. How could the murderer prove so amazingly elusive?

Bestselling author, Sinclair McKay delves into this intriguing story and sheds light on a mystery that eluded the detectives of Scotland Yard. Amazon

And next I intend to read Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan as October’s chosen read for The Classics Club.


Blurb

The French Riviera: home to the Beautiful People. And none are more beautiful than Cécile, a precocious seventeen-year-old, and her father Raymond, a vivacious libertine. Charming, decadent and irresponsible, the golden-skinned duo are dedicated to a life of free love, fast cars and hedonistic pleasures. But then, one long, hot summer Raymond decides to marry, and Cécile and her lover Cyril feel compelled to take a hand in his amours, with tragic consequences.

Bonjour Tristesse scandalized 1950s France with its portrayal of teenager terrible Cécile, a heroine who rejects conventional notions of love, marriage and responsibility to choose her own sexual freedom. Amazon

So I’ve shown you mine, what does your reading week look like?