Death at the Priory

There are gaps in my to be read bookshelf. Gaps.

Not on the pulp shelf, true, but on the non-fiction and ‘proper fiction’ shelves.

Death at the Priory
James Ruddick
(Atlantic, 2001)

The Charles Bravo case is one of several notorious Victorian crimes. In 1876, Bravo took three agonised days to die of antimony poisoning. The police couldn’t find any conclusive evidence, and the coroner’s inquest returned an open verdict. Bravo himself never suggested who might have poisoned him. His wife’s companion, Mrs Cox, suggested he had commited suicide, but no-one doing that would use antimony.

Many books have been written speculating on who did it. This 2001 book by journalist James Ruddick introduces the facts of the case, works through the common theories and produces its own.

Ruddick uses the investigative skills of a journalist (the proper ones, not modern churnalism) to go back to the primary sources. He goes further, in fact, and tracks down living relatives of the key protagonists. This produces new evidence such as letters about wills which changes the standard theories about the case. If someone knew they were due to inherit a vast estate, would they still kill Bravo for threatening their financial state?

As with the Road Hill House murder*, the Bravo case intrigues as it demonstrates the passionate turmoil behind the surface veneer of an upper class Victorian household. Florence Bravo, Charles’ wife, had been married before to an alcoholoic then had an affair with a much older man before deciding she wanted respectability again. She died two years after Charles’ death, of alcohol poisoning.

The contemporary press reported the Bravo inquest verbatim, fuelling a desire for every sensationalist detail. When the inquest was due to sit on a bank holiday the crowds who showed to watch were so great the coroner had to postpone it for the day.

Ruddick covers the details concisely and puts forward a convincing case for his solution, based on the new primary material he uncovered. But some of the familial history is hearsay, so needs to be taken cautiously. Given how many people the case ruined (both in social standing and in physical health), the descendents are unlikely to be unbiased.

Still, the return to primary sources and the determination to find new evidence makes this book a good example of investigative journalism as well as a smart traipse through a true crime.


*I’m shocked to discover I’ve not reviewed The Suspicions of Mr Whicher here but suffice to say I loved it.

  • email
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Buzz
  • Posterous
  • Tumblr
  • Reddit
  • Technorati

Comments are closed.


Switch to our mobile site

google

google

asus