Sunday, January 17, 2010

Death at the Priory: Sex, Love, and Murder in Victorian England

Last night I whipped through Death at the Priory: Sex, Love, and Murder in Victorian England by James Ruddick (only 190 pages, not including Notes & Index). Wow! As a mystery, it did not disappoint. It's a retelling of a famous Victorian murder, the poisoning of Charles Bravo, which remains unsolved to this day.

Part One, 'The Strange Death of a Rising Young Barrister', outlined the events leading up to the crime & the crime itself. Part One also introduced us to our cast of characters/suspects--Charles' wife Florence; her companion, Mrs. Cox; her ex-lover, Dr. Gully; & the recently dismissed stableman, George Griffiths. This is no dry recapitulation of the story--as blurbs by Elizabeth George & Kate Atkinson attest, James Ruddick's gives us an account "as compelling as any fictional thriller".

Part Two, 'Who Killed Charles Bravo?', is where Ruddick's research kicks in. There have been numerous studies of Bravo's murder, including one by Agatha Christie, but Ruddick remains unconvinced by their solutions. Instead of relying on the traditional evidence, Ruddick's research takes him as far afield as Jamaica to piece together his own original conclusion. His investigation certainly is meticulous--he leaves no stone unturned, including visiting the Priory, the Bravos' house (now an apartment house), to act out some sequences from the night Charles Bravo was poisoned.

I really enjoyed this book, though I'm not sure I agree with Ruddick's solution. It was a quick read & a gripping story. If you enjoy a recreated Victorian mystery story, you consider also Patricia Cornwell's Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper--Case Closed.

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