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 Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Apprentice of Split Crow Lane – Jane Housham

Non-Fiction Crime 5*s
Non-Fiction Crime
5*s

When I saw that this book was going to be published on 3 November 2016 way back in August my interest was piqued and I took the bold step of telling the publishers riverrun so, they in turn kindly supplied me with copy.

On 13 April 1866 on Carr’s Hill, Gateshead five year old Sarah Melvin disappeared, only for her body to be discovered later by a couple going to the local public house. The crime was a brutal one, the facts horrifying, even at a distance of 150 years but Jane Housham, having come across the case in the course of tracing her family history decided to use it as a springboard to examine not only the crime itself, but the psyche of the accused, the justice system and how the insane were treated in the mid-Victorian age.

The book opens with the background to the case, the journey that young Sarah Melvin is known to have taken on the day of her murder travelling to visit her father who was out seeking work. We are treated to the work of the police following the discovery of the body, its removal to the local inn, as was the custom in those days, and later to her mother’s house where an autopsy was held on the table. The rudiments of forensics were just being employed but this was as far removed from the strict chain of evidence used these days as you can get.

Unlike some historical true crime books, Jane Housham doesn’t re-examine the evidence to put forward a theory of another killer than that tried for the crime, instead she has carried out extensive research into what the make-up of the killer was. Why did he commit such a terrible crime? Was he insane? What she finds isn’t necessarily what we would expect from Victorian justice, a revelation indeed.

Jane Housham uses the contemporary media from that time, she looks at other crimes that were committed on and around Carr’s Hill within a similar time period. She also gives us a flavour of the population of the time, of the haves and the have-nots and really conjures up details of the place where the crime was committed in astonishing detail especially as the area has changed beyond recognition in the intervening years. The log books detailing the prisoner’s incarceration are also provided as well as the few remaining letters surviving from that time which indicate the level of his education as well as the workings of his mind.

Books of this nature which have to be so rigorously researched can often be quite dry as the author seeks to educate the reader, not this one, the prose is lively the tone even without a hint of condescension, the facts are displayed, the author unafraid to pose an opinion and when she is unsure of a statement she’s made, says so. Why the doubts? Because she accepts that at such a distance in time, it is impossible to really know what happened. She has a number of documents, a huge amount of knowledge, but of course there are gaps, the author wasn’t stood in the courtroom listening to the evidence although she has done a good job of spotting the discrepancies in the newspaper reporting, and rectifying some of the minor confusion caused all these years later.

This was a fascinating read, particularly for those readers who like me, are interested in Victorian provision of the criminally insane. To have the words written by those doctors who had not quite relinquished the hold of phrenology but are doing their best to embrace the new liberal ideas surrounding psychiatry at this time, and then in turn reading this  in relation to a real case, shows the practical application of thinking in a way the theory espoused at the time never can.

I am truly grateful for the opportunity to read this book, it was enlightening and despite the inevitable feeling of voyeurism in revisiting such a crime, no matter how long ago it occurred. The sheer amount of information to be gleaned from this book on a number of different related subjects was enormous but done in such a clear-sighted manner that made these facts easy to absorb and build upon. I definitely think the author hit her brief of examining the shift in ideas about insanity at this time, illustrating justice in action and sadly the life of a killer, his family and of course poor little Sarah Melvin whose life was cut short.

First Published UK: 3 November 2016
Publisher: Riverrun
No of Pages: 368
Genre: Historical True Crime
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Unseeing – Anna Mazzola

Historical Crime Fiction 5*s
Historical Crime Fiction
5*s

Using the bare bones of a real historical crime, Anna Mazzola has filled in the gaps to present a gripping story, one that feels entirely authentic.

The year is 1837 and Queen Victoria is on the throne, London is a bustling array of work while a woman’s life is dependent on class and money and being married. Meet Sarah Gale who has been sentenced to hang for being an accomplice to the murder of Hannah Brown, a woman cut down on the eve of her wedding. Sarah sits in an impeccably described cell in Newgate awaiting her fate. With the public clamouring for her sentence to be reduced, a lawyer young Edmund Fleetwood is asked by the attorney general to review the evidence and produce a report for him. Edmund goes about his task diligently, but it’s not easy, Sarah has given no real defence and with her former lover about to be hung for murder Edmund has his work cut out for him.

Sarah was a seamstress in London at the time the murder took place with a young son in tow she was ripe for being taken advantage of so when her lover James Greenacre takes up with someone else, that someone being the future victim, Hannah Brown, Sarah shuffles off to a local boarding house wondering how she was going to keep herself and her son out of the ever looming fear of the workhouse.

Anna Mazzola really conjures up the time period for us in this pitch-perfect historical thriller with the details of the time period delicately placed so that never once did it feel like that her obviously meticulous research had been indiscriminately scattered across the pages. And then there is the plot, the most obvious and troubling question being why won’t Sarah defend herself? Edmund is fearful that if he can’t get her to talk she will hang for a crime she has not committed. But this talented debut author doesn’t just follow that question around bends, there are other side-plots to explore with a whole cast of characters that may be not all they first appear to be. Put simply, this is a book which has undertone of dark and disturbing matters, some of which have stayed hidden for quite some time. It is these undertones which add the real feeling of layering to the story this is far from a bit of imagination being added to the real story of The Edgeware Road Murders, with a complex tale that the author has spiced up with additional characters and these are delivered with a real emotional context given to their actions. With these multiple layers so pleasingly presented I was completely immersed in the tale as it unfolded; I could imagine Sarah sat in her small cell, the lawyer beside her coaxing a defence from her tight lips and despite her reluctance we learn a little bit more and this kept me turning those pages until the fitting finale.

If you haven’t already guessed, I loved this book, there was nothing that felt the tiniest bit out of place and the author subtlety manipulates the reader’s emotions by the drip-feed of bits of information. I also rarely mention titles in my reviews but this is a good one in part it relates to Hannah Brown who had an eye removed in the course of the murder but it also applies to other characters too which pleases my love of continuity between a title and a novel. This really is an exceptional debut, and I’m looking forward to finding out what else this talented author will produce for my enjoyment.

I was exceptionally grateful to be provided this book by the publisher Tinder Press and this honest review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 14 July 2016
Publisher: Tinder Press
No of Pages: 368
Genre: Historical Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

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

The Wicked Boy – Kate Summerscale

Non-Fiction 5*s
Non-Fiction
5*s

I do love Victorian true crime and Kate Summerscale managed to stumble across a fairly obscure one in 1895 West Ham, that of a young boy, thirteen year old Robert Coombes who was accused of murder and stood trial at the Old Bailey on just that charge.

The beauty of Kate Summerscale’s books are the minutiae of detail that surround the actual substance of the book, and this one is no different. The crime in this instance isn’t the puzzle that we met in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, rather this is a book about the attitudes of the day both in the media and those in the legal profession. It also looks at the contemporary view of the medical profession on inherent wickedness including a fairly popular one that considered children little more than wild animals to be tamed.

Robert and his younger brother Nattie Coombes had gone to watch the cricket at Lords in the aftermath of the murder as well as going to the seaside and playing in the vicinity of their home. However as the accused they could not defend themselves in court:

The law barred defendants from testifying, but since Fox, Robert and Nattie had no legal representation they were entitled to question the witnesses that Baggallay called.

Can you imagine boys of thirteen and twelve who had never been in court before having the wherewithal to question witnesses that accused them of murder? I can’t!

The media was less concerned with this fundamental flaw in the proceedings and were instead highly concerned in the ‘penny bloods’ that Robert devoured. When one journalist at St James’s Gazette was tasked with reading the publications he stated the following:

The task was ‘repulsive and depressing’, he said; the writing ‘brutalised my whole consciousness’, reviving ‘the fundamental instinct of savagery inherent in us all It disgusts, but it attracts; as one reads on the disgust lessens and the attraction increases. ‘The Coombes boys, he concluded, ‘with their intelligence scientifically developed at the expense of the ratepayers, had been wound up to regard murder as a highly superior kind of ‘lark’ by a sedulous study of the worst kind of gory fiction and cut-throat newspaper’.

This of course was one of the first generations of children who had been educated at the Board Schools set up in each district. It seems from this piece that there was a general feeling that this money was wasted on the poorer members of society. The biggest concern however was around the number of the publications of penny bloods that were found in Robert and Nattie’s home, their influence was considered by some as the chief catalyst in the murder – not so very different to our own newspapers in recent years lamenting various films and games that were also a big attraction to teenage boys. In fact there were a number of media reports in this book that could quite easily be transported to today’s press with only minor alterations needed to update them!

This book isn’t just about the murder and the trial though it goes on to follow Robert through his life to see what life for a child murderer looked like in Victorian England. The answer may not be quite what you expect! All through this time Kate Summerscale draws comparisons to other happenings of the day, other crimes that filled the courts, the life of those who lived in the same area as the Coombes boys. Nuggets of priceless information abound the pages with subjects quite wide-ranging while always linked the central story but give lovers of historical facts like me a treasure chest of facts to wonder upon.

Each male patient was allocated an ounce of tobacco a week, drawn from the government stock of contraband seized by Customs & Exercise officer.

With so much to absorb, particularly as my maternal ancestors moved to West Ham around the turn of the Twentieth century and in particular one of the newspaper reports featured in this look at crimes at this time involved distant relatives of mine, there was much to keep me entertained and engaged from beginning to end. The End notes are a delight all of their own:

The sun rose at 3:53 a.m. that morning according to the London Standard of 8 July 1895 and set at 8:15 p.m. The Standard of 9 July reported that the temperature on Monday rose to 81 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade.

leaving me in no doubt at all regarding the quality of the research undertaken by Kate Summerscale.

I am very grateful for the publishers Penguin Press for allowing me to read a copy of The Wicked Boy ahead of publication on 5 May 2016 although I’m equally excited to receive my own copy which is on pre-order so I can cross reference the end notes side by side with the main chapters for ease. This review is my own, unbiased opinion.

Other Books by Kate Summerscale

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher
Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Mrs Maybrick – Victoria Blake

Non-Fiction 4*s
Non-Fiction
4*s

I can’t write this review without stating how attractive this little book is being small and almost square it is really quite sweet, unlike its contents of course! So much so that I instantly felt an urge to collect others in this series on appearances alone and then I read it, and if the others are as well researched and clearly set out as this one, well I will need to fill an entire shelf with them!

I chose this book on the advice of the author when she mentioned Florence Maybrick in the comments section of my review of The Last Woman Hanged, the subject of that study was Louisa Collins who was accused of murdering two husbands in New South Wales in 1889. Florence Maybrick underwent her trial for the murder of her husband James Maybrick in August of the same year, the poison was the same, arsenic. I knew a little about Florence’s trial from the splendid read which was Victorian Murderesses but wanted to see what Victoria Blake would add. Quite a lot it would seem and even better at the end of the book she presents the arguments for and against on whether Florence was guilty as charged. I like a woman who stands by her research and the author didn’t disappoint putting her hat into the ring – which one you’ll have to read the book and find out for yourself.

Within the 100 plus pages the information is densely packed with information including the background to the case, the state of the Maybrick’s marriage, the scheming servants and the two-faced friends all get as thorough examination as the facts will allow. The book has two sets of plates full of pictures of not only the key players in this drama but some of the documents used to convict Florence too.

It is interesting to read that there were many women who wrote to the papers about Florence Maybrick as they did for Louisa Collins on the other side of the world only months earlier. The same complaints were made in that Florence was being tried by and judged by men, women not being allowed to vote at this time, let alone sit on a jury! There also appears to have been some similar conviction on the part of the doctors and the police that Florence was guilty giving weight to the feeling that the trial wasn’t fair and the doubts about the poison, and whether it was poison raged just as fiercely in Liverpool in 1889 as they had in Australia. Perhaps the fears of the population that those weaker than them could easily procure the means to kill them in extreme agony had a part to play in both women’s trials or perhaps this was seen to be an easy way to get out of a marriage in a time when options were limited? Either way this makes for fascinating and informative reading.

Learn more about Victoria Blake on her blog here

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady – Kate Summerscale

Non Fiction 4*s
Non Fiction
4*s

I have to admit that I enjoy a good Victorian scandal, one that ended up in court, made headline news and left reputation tattered and torn, so I settled down to enjoy. What I didn’t bank on was my growing sympathy for poor Isabella’s plight.

The author reveals the background to the story first and we know that Isabella Robinson, a widow with a young son, married Henry Robinson in 1844. A fiercely intelligent and well-read woman it didn’t take her long to realise that perhaps she should have held out for a better match:

He was an ‘uncongenial man’ she wrote in her diary: uneducated, narrow-minded, harsh-tempered, selfish, proud.’ While she yearned to talk about literature and politics, to write poetry, learn languages and read the latest essays on science and philosophy, he was ‘a man who had only a commercial life’

We hear how the couple moved around but the real action starts once they moved to Edinburgh, where with young children in tow they made the acquaintance of Elizabeth Drysdale, a fantastic host who shared her splendid home with her daughter Mary and her son-in-law Edward Lane. Edward Lane had studied to be a lawyer but was now training to be a doctor (these upper middle class men seemed to be eternally switching careers!) With Henry often away on business which was to design and build ships and mills for sugar cane it is clear that Isabella craved company, what she soon commits in writing is that she particularly craved a particular type of company from Mr Edward Lane.

I’m not going to lie, although by the end I had a lot of sympathy for Isabella, she led a life at that time which many could only have wondered at; she enjoyed her children’s company, was forever being entertained, going on holiday and able to read and contemplate her navel and commit those thoughts to her diary, whilst being waited upon hand and foot. But, and here is where things get far more complex, she had nothing to call her own. Indeed her fateful marriage to Henry had been partly bought about that she wasn’t an attractive prospect, a widow with a child, especially as her deceased husband had settled most of his money on the offspring from his first wife. Henry was no saint, he had offspring by an unmarried woman and was clearly after the money Isabella was given by her family, an amount settled yearly to avoid the fact that otherwise she had nothing under the law of the land at that time. Isabella was one of the many unlucky women who had no outlet for her intelligence, although I have to say at times her ‘poor me’ attitude grated. But she was stuck, divorce was practically impossible until the summer of 1858. In the end it was Henry that applied to divorce Isabella using the evidence from he own diary as proof.

This book is teaming with social history particularly that of the richer members of society at this time, and it is this that really made this book so fascinating for me and kept me reading, especially at the beginning when at times I tired at times of Isabella, although all that changed when we got to court! During the unfolding of the story as told in main, through the words of Isabella, although I was surprised to hear that the original diary no longer exists, there are snapshots of contemporary Victorian life infused with the story of Isabella’s disgrace at her own hand. A woman who is judged not only in the court room but by her peers across the land as snippets of her diary make their way into the newspapers.

I love the style of writing, there is no emphasising certain facts in this books just a clear and neutral retelling of a woman’s life, her choices and the consequences. The additional historical details all of which are impeccably researched include atheism, phrenology, water treatments, insanity and of course divorce law which make this one of the most educational books of the Victorian period and far more readily digested than dry facts.

There is no-one who quite manages to keep their voice so neutral and yet deliver such a well-researched and compelling story as Kate Summerscale and although I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as the Suspicions of Mr Whicher this was a personal choice of subject rather than delivery. I am however delighted to hear from dear Fiction Fan that Kate Summerscale has a new Victorian crime to delight us with in May; The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer is on pre-order!

 

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

Victorian Murderesses – Mary S. Hartman

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

There is something quite fascinating about women who murder, and judging by the amount of contemporary reporting of the details about the cases featured in this book, nothing much has changed over time. In this book the author has selected an Englishwoman and a Frenchwoman for each chapter based upon the circumstances, rather than the method of their crimes. All the women featured are from the middle-classes and a certain amount of conjecture is used to paint a picture of this class of women from the details of their cases the reasoning of the author being that these women’s lives weren’t documented or studied in the way of the lower classes and so using these cause celebres can give us a glimpse behind the drawing room curtains of their lives. I’m not completely convinced by this argument but for some of the broader details it works, for instance the chapters that touch upon contraceptive gives us an idea of how widespread or acceptable this was in Victorian England for the middle-classes.

The beauty of this book is threefold; the details of the crimes committed the resulting investigation and if appropriate trial, the popular opinion at the time of the guilt or innocence of those accused using contemporary media and lastly the particular social issues that may have led these women to act outside the law and kill another person. Each case presented was interesting and appeared to be well-researched, although one of the downsides of reading this kind of book on the kindle is that following the notes as you go along is very time-consuming so I tended to wait until I’d finished a chapter to catch-up on these. The fact that there were two women per chapter means that the reader does need to concentrate once the initial setting of the scene has happened, as the author switches between the two subjects to compare and contrast the difference between the two societies in a number of different spheres, including popular opinion and expectations.

The author states in the preface:

These accused daughters, wives and mothers have little to teach any would-be twentieth-century practitioner about the art of murder; nearly all of them bungled badly in the ac, and those who got away with it relied upon methods that required special circumstances and relations between the sexes which no longer obtain.

And that is precisely what makes this study so interesting, women can no longer act coy in the witness box, but they could, and were expected to, in Victorian England and so many of the more salacious details are hinted at rather than baldly stated both at the trial and the resultant reporting.

The cases cover the years 1840-1890’s and the subjects covered are:
Marie Lafarge and Euphemie Lacoste which covers the use of arsenic in matriomony
Madeline Smith and Angelina Lemoine who were both between school and marriage when they were accused of killing their lovers
Celestine Doudet and Constance Kent who were both spinsters when they murdered
Florence Bravo and Henriette Francey the so called new women who were defying the old order of society
Gabrielle Fenayrou and Adelaide Bartlett both wives of shopkeepers who were reported to have committed adultery
Florence Maybrick and Claire Reymond who were allegedly victims of the double standards held at the time.

I found this book both interesting and informative although the language at time is quite dry, this is a study rather than a book for entertainment but one that I will be seeking a physical copy of on my bookshelf to supplement my Victorian crime selection.

This book was originally published back in 1976 but has been re-released in 2014 for a new generation of readers by Dover Publications who were kind enough to give me a copy of this book in return for my honest review.

My recommended further reading:

The Suspicion of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale – Constance Kent is the chief suspect in the The Murder at Road Hill House and features in chapter three of this book.
Death at the Priory by James Ruddick – The murder of Charles Bravo is the subject of this non-fiction book which explores all the possible culprits to this horrific murder by poison. (chapter four in this book)
A Very British Murder by Lucy Worsley – an excellent look at the fascination that we have with a ‘good murder’ and the reporting that fed this desire.

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

The Silent Tide – Rachel Hore

Dual Time Zone 5*'s
Dual Time Zone
5*’s

For me there is something magical about a book set around the literary word. This dual time zone novel is set around the world of publishing and authors which combined with the dual-time zone device, made it the perfect read from this book-lovers perspective.

The past is 1948, features Isabelle, a young woman who left her oppressive home life as a teenager. Isabelle is really leaving a life dominated by her father who had been damaged by World War II and a life of drudgery helping her mother with the house and her younger siblings. She turns up at her aunt’s house in London and soon becomes immersed in the literary world.

The present is Emily who is the editor for Hugh Morton’s (a famous author) autobiography. Having been given a copy of a little-known early book Emily is captivated by references to Isabelle and keen to find out more about this young woman’s life.

Rachel Hore has done a fantastic job of research for this novel and it speaks volumes about women’s lives in post-war England, not just Isabelle’s but those of Emily’s mother and aunt too. The characters are life-like being complicated and making decisions that are not always easily understood. The interspersed stories move the book on at a good pace. As with many of these books you do need to suspend belief at times particularly in the way Emily is drip-fed pieces of information about Isabelle but I was captivated by both women’s vulnerability which was sensitively portrayed.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read with a plot that holds its ground despite the inevitable co-incidences to tie up the loose ends neatly in a bow.

This is the sixth book written by Rachel Hore

The Dream House – The past is Victorian England

Its owner is the frail elderly Agnes, whose story – as it unravels – echoes so much of Kate’s own.

The Memory Garden – Some paintings found in the attic spark the mystery in this one

Then Patrick finds some old paintings in an attic, and as he and Mel investigate the identity of the artist, they are drawn into an extraordinary tale of illicit passion and thwarted ambition from a century ago, a tale that resonates in their own lives.

The Glass Painters Daughter – this is my favourite, set in Victorian England in a shop that deals in stained glass.

In a tiny stained-glass shop hidden in the backstreets of Westminster lies the cracked, sparkling image of an angel.

A Place of Secrets – a connection to an 18 Century Folly drives this novel

‘Rachel Hore’s intriguing Richard and Judy recommended read, which is layered with a series of mysteries, some more supernatural than others’ –Independent

 A Gathering Storm – The role of female SOE Agents in the Second World War

spanning from Cornwall to London, and Occupied France, in which friendship and love are tested, and the ramifications reach down the generations.

 

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

Caversham Lock – Michael Stewart Conway

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

Caversham Lock tells the story of Amelia Dyer one of the most prolific women serial killers of all time. Amelia was a baby farmer in the Victorian era. Michael Conway brings this story to life told through the eyes of the fictional policeman Sergeant Stubbs and Constable Furnivall who are on hand to investigate when a baby’s body is pulled from the water at Caversham Lock.

Having read Amelia Dyer: Angel Maker: The Woman Who Murdered Babies for Money it is clear that this book is underpinned by meticulous research however this depressing story is lifted by the engaging relationship between Stubbs and Furnivall. I particularly enjoyed the references to Sergeant Stubb’s roving eye whenever the policemen come into contact with a pretty girl. The language the author uses adds to the atmosphere of Victorian England, both in the style of the writing, and the description of Victorian cities, without being intrusive to the story being told.

The telling a true crime story through a fictional medium can be a bit hit and miss and I was thoroughly impressed with this one; the quality of the writing blended with the known facts of this case gives an immensely readable book. I will definitely be following up on this excellent book by reading Caversham Road
Caversham Lock

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

After reading The Ghost of Lily Painter, a novel that draws upon the arrest and trial of Amelia Sach who was a baby farmer based in Finchley, I wanted to know more about how widespread this practice was.

A shocking story about baby farming in Victorian England

This book relays the life story of Amelia Dyer, born Amelia Hobley in 1838, the youngest of 5 children born to a relatively comfortable family for the times. The events surrounding the deaths of the children are truly horrifying. These children were entrusted to her care, often for [] pounds to take full responsibility for the rest of their lives thereby relieving their families of any further involvement. The authors describe how many of these were drugged and starved to death. Amelia appears to have started this career by acting as a midwife who for a fee ensured that babies were stillborn before moving on to placing adverts in papers offering to take care of children for a premium. Amelia plyed her trade, intersperced with time in prison and mental asylums for many years before finally being investigated fully in 1896.

This book also goes some way to explain why single women were persuaded that answering the adverts was the answer to their problems, orphanages would often stipulate that their charges be true orphans and a single woman with a child could not easily find employment and ensure their child was cared for. The lack of money was not helped by an act passed in 1830 which meant a single woman could not claim money for the child’s upkeep from the father.

A sad but informative book about a period of history where real poverty enabled such a foul trade to flourish.
Amelia Dyer: The Woman Who Murdered Babies for Money