This is the story of Florence Maybrick, a young American married to James, an older man who is a merchant in Liverpool. Tensions lurk behind their solid Victorian middle-class front, in their house containing a cook, maids and a nanny for their two children. James has a mistress and Florence is flirting with another man. And then, after a short illness, James dies.
His brothers are convinced that he has been poisoned by Florence and suggest this to the doctors. Slowly, the cumbersome machinery of Victorian detection and justice swings into action.
The house is littered with Arsenic in many forms, chiefly as patent medicines. Did Florence use them to remove herself of a husband who was beginning to turn violent or did James poison himself through his hypochondria and an addiction to arsenic? Did he even die from arsenic or was it simply gastro-enteritis? Nothing in this case is what it seems.
What is particularly brilliant about the narration of this case is that Colquhon never tells you what is going to happen before it happens. At each stage of the case there is doubt about what will happen next. Did she do it? Will she get off? Slowly, inexorably, the story unfolds. It is as good as any thriller. The only way it is marred is when Colquhon spends rather too long judging the social circumstances by repeated reference to Victorian novels, especially to those of Henry James.
Otherwise a brilliant real-life whodunnit.
August 2015; 346 pages
Kate Colquhon also wrote the desperately exciting Mr Briggs' Hat about the first railway murder in Britain.
- Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57