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Bessie Mundy, Alice Burnham and Margaret Lofty are three women with one thing in common. They are spinsters and are desperate to marry. Each woman meets a smooth-talking stranger who promises her a better life. She falls under his spell, and becomes his wife. But marriage soon turns into a terrifying experience.
In the dark opening months of the First World War, Britain became engrossed by 'The Brides in the Bath' trial. The horror of the killing fields of the Western Front was the backdrop to a murder story whose elements were of a different sort. This was evil of an everyday, insidious kind, played out in lodging houses in seaside towns, in the confines of married life, and brought to a horrendous climax in that most intimate of settings - the bathroom.
The nation turned to a young forensic pathologist, Bernard Spilsbury, to explain how it was that young women were suddenly expiring in their baths. This was the age of science. In fiction, Sherlock Holmes applied a scientific mind to solving crimes. In real-life, would Spilsbury be as infallible as the 'great detective'?
This one isn't crime fiction; it's a retelling of a famous case from the early days of the First World War in which three recently married women were found drowned in their baths. The husband (the same bloke in all cases!) was tried for murder of one of them, and the book is about the emergence of the Sherlock Holmes style scientific investigation in the English court.
The man doing the Holmes stuff was Bernard Spilsbury, who came to fame in the Crippen murder trial. Author Jane Robins does a terrific job of bringing to life the horror of the murders, the arrogant, magnetic appeal of the accused and the courtroom battle between him and the redoubtable Marshall Hall.
Reconstructing a gripping story from court documents and newspaper accounts is no easy task, but Jane Robins has done a terrific job, producing a page-turner that is both macabre and satisfying. Whether Spilsbury really ushered in the age of forensic medicine is another matter - it's a fine read!
'A riveting and beautifully written book. A high point in the annals of murder, for every necessary ingredient - callousness, ruthlessness, mystery, recklessness, boarding houses, detection, a chase, money, sex and even a bit of glamour - is present. Miss Robins has made a thumping good book out of it'. [Sunday Telegraph]'In Jane Robins' excellent The Magnificent Spilsbury - part-whodunit thriller, part-social history, part-biography - there's delight in the detail. This is a pacy page-turner underpinned by meticulous primary source research. Frankly, it's a treat... as satisfying as a fine thriller'. | [The Scotsman]'Robins's description of the murders and of Smith's persuasive personality is gripping. The Magnificent Spilsbury teems with promise'.| [Sunday Times]'As well as being a gripping, pacy account of a gruesome murder trial, this book is also a compelling piece of social history. An author tackling a story like this has to fight hard to avoid tipping into prurience and ghoulishness. Robins wins the fight, and shines a light on a dark age for women'.| [Independent on Sunday]'Not just a compelling read but it also an intriguing slice of social history'.| [The Express]
Published: 1st June 2010
Dimensions (cm): 23.3 x 15.5 x 2.2
Weight (kg): 0.42