Book Review: Did She Kill Him? by Kate Colquhoun

Did She Kill Him by Kate Colquhoun
Title: Did She Kill Him?: A Victorian Tale of Deception, Adultery, and Arsenic
Author: Kate Colquhoun
Social Media: Goodreads and Twitter
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Rating: 3 out of 5
Source: Supplied by Collins Booksellers – Bacchus Marsh

About The Author:
Kate Colquhoun was born in Ireland in 1964. She is married to literary agent David Miller and lives in west London. They have two sons.

About The Book:
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?

Historian Kate Colquhoun recounts an utterly absorbing tale of addiction, deception and adultery that keeps you asking to the very last page, did she kill him?

Aspects I Liked and/or Enjoyed
~Vivid Descriptions: Though I’m not a reader that enjoys lots of description, the author described everything in such a detailed way that I had no problems visualizing the era (food and fashion seemed to be the most prominent) and the environment (the Battlecrease House was often described and the author included a map). I suppose it also helps that I’m a massive Downton Abbey fan

~Detailed Research: The author has clearly done a lot of research, there’s a huge amount of effort put into the book, with footnotes and references at the end, there’s also direct quotes from people (written in italics).

~The Feminist Agenda: Lets be clear about one thing, the reason Florence Maybrick is on trial in the first place is because of the time-period, Victorian society’s attitudes towards Adultery (which is still a problem in modern British society) and the civil and legal rights of Women (which at the time were pretty non-existent). This trial would never have occurred in modern society, regardless of whether she was guilty. It was pretty clear that Florence Maybrick was on trial for Adultery and not Attempted Murder.

Aspects I Had Problems With
~Slow Plot: It took a long time to get into the flow of the plot and key elements, like Florence’s pregnancy and miscarriage, were not always clear. It took ages to get the trial stage, which was were I felt the novel had most of the momentum.

~Forgone Conclusion: In my opinion, James Maybrick’s arsenic addiction sort of made it a moot point, it didn’t matter if she killed him because he was going to kill himself anyway. As the author established, there was literally arsenic in everything during the Victorian era and very little technological ability to either improve/combat the situation or conduct conclusive testing. While I don’t think Florence Maybrick killed her husband, from my perspective she didn’t stand to gain anything from his death but would have gained a lot by keeping him alive, it was only a matter of time before James Maybrick’s death by arsenic occurred.

Overall, it’s a detailed and comprehensive read, however while I enjoy crime and mystery, I’m not a big fan of the true crime genre, which is generally more depressing (I read books to get away from reality, not to be reminded of it). However, I am happy to recommend it to either true crime enthusiasts or readers interested in gender studies.

Interview with Kate Colquhoun

RMFAO Genre Challenge 2016

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