Book Reviews

Did She Kill Him?: A Victorian tale of deception, adultery and arsenic by Kate Colquhoun

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List Price: £3.99


Kindle Edition: 433 Pages.

Published: 06 March 2014 by Little, Brown Book Group



In the summer of 1889, young Southern belle Florence Maybrick stood trial for the alleged arsenic poisoning of her much older husband, Liverpool cotton merchant James Maybrick.

'The Maybrick Mystery' had all the makings of a sensation: a pretty, flirtatious young girl; resentful, gossiping servants; rumours of gambling and debt; and torrid mutual infidelity. The case cracked the varnish of Victorian respectability, shocking and exciting the public in equal measure as they clambered to read the latest revelations of Florence's past and glimpse her likeness in Madame Tussaud's.

Florence's fate was fiercely debated in the courtroom, on the front pages of the newspapers and in parlours and backyards across the country. Did she poison her husband? Was her previous infidelity proof of murderous intentions? Was James' own habit of self-medicating to blame for his demise?


4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars  by Anne

More Victorian social history than true crime

The main content of this book is not an examination of the events leading up to the death of Florence Maybrick's husband James and an assessment of whether or not she did kill him - in fact, the author doesn't really give you her opinion about this. The book is mostly about the trial of Florence for the murder and whether the evidence was enough to convict her. The author also examines Florence's story in the context of the situation of women in Victorian England with especial reference to the criminal justice system. I enjoyed what she presented and have, as every reader will, formed my own view based on the evidence she provides - I am pretty sure, however, that there wasn't enough evidence provided to the court to convict.

Because so much of the book concentrates on the trial the book goes into a lot of detail about James' illness and the events surrounding it. This does become a bit tedious in places especially when most of it is repeated in the trial scenes. The author tries to enliven this by writing some scenes in a novelistic way, assuming people's emotions and what is said. Possibly this is all backed up by Florence's diary but you do wonder at times whether some of it is not just in the mind of the author.

I did, however, find this a gripping read. I thought that the author set out the facts very clearly and showed well why the evidence provided to the court didn't stack up. Some of the ways in which Florence was treated are eye opening - including when she is locked away in a bedroom by her brother-in-law and when she is arrested for murder without any post-mortem results having confirmed that this is how James died. The author does spend some time showing us how Florence was treated and why she lost the respect and the impartiality of the judge - his summing up of the case seemed to conclude that because she had had an affair she was so corrupt and evil that she must also have committed murder.

If you are interested in Victorian social history or in true crime you should enjoy this retelling of an interesting case.

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