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The Magnificent Spilsbury and the Case of the Brides in the Bath [Paperback]

Jane Robins
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
RRP: 9.99
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Book Description

20 Jan 2011

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'?

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray (20 Jan 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848541090
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848541092
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 149,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'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. Robins. . . 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)

Here Jane Robins gives us that story in all its tingling horror (Sunday Telegraph)

Jane Robins's account of this classic murder story is riveting (Mail on Sunday)

Book Description

As a gripping piece of true historical crime, this will appeal to the many fans of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A period murder mystery, a timeless parable 3 April 2010
The enthralling story of the desperate and dateless of Edwardian England. There was a huge over-supply of women in the early years of the century and "the country...was practically awash with girls who couldn't find a partner at dances". This was the sad fate of Bessie Munday, Alice Burnham and Margaret Lofty, all unremarkable women,spinsters rather past their prime for the marriage market and drifting through their uneventful lives desperate to be the bride and not the bridesmaid.

And so when they met a smooth-talking good-looking conman with charisma who offered them marriage, without hesitation or consulting with their families they jumped at the chance. As victims of scams in every place and every time their happiness was short-lived,- just long enough to make a will or insurance policy in favour of their new husband and take a bath.
And when the police investigation began the women kept coming out of the closet, including two survivors, one wife in Canada and Edith Pegler "the wife he always returned to".

You couldn't find a better murder story in fiction especially as this one comes complete with a latter-day Sherlock Holmes in the form of the forensic pathologist Bernard Spilsbury and a sleuthing Rumpole of a lawyer.

The details of the murders and career of the Bernard Spilsbury are interspersed with background detail creating a vivid picture of the preoccupations and daily life of the period, such as the evidence offered that in the case of an unplumbed-in bath and a small boiler it would take twelve journeys upstairs with a bucket to fill it halfway up and twenty journeys to fill it three quarters full. No wonder baths were only an option for the wealthy!
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Murder Will Out 5 April 2010
To maintain suspense when recounting true crime requires considerable skill, and Jane Robins's account of the career and capture of one of the most famous murderers of the last century is as fast-paced as any whodunnit. The narrative cuts deftly from the modest backgrounds of the female victims, to the pursuit by the dogged detective, to the dramatic staging of the forensic proofs and finally to the gripping courtroom battle between Spilsbury and Marshall Hall - respectively the leading pathologist and criminal advocate of the era.
But this is more than a simple page-turner: Robins's background as a serious historian is evident in her use of primary sources, including Spilsbury's original case cards and contemporary newspaper accounts, to illuminate not only who and how, but also why. By building up a detailed picture of the insecure position of single women at the outbreak of WW1, Robins enables us to comprehend how the female desire for the status of matrimony could be so cynically exploited. Her scholarship is deployed with a light touch, using quotations from correspondence and court papers to delineate the characters of the victims and to demonstrate how George Joseph Smith was able to manipulate the gullible until the bitter end.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
This exceptional treatment of a notorious early 20th century English murder combines the page-turning interest of a well-written detective story with serious and wide ranging exposition of not just the scientific and legal issues in the case, but also of the social and historical context in which the all the protagonists lived.

Ms. Robins has used a wide range of materials with accuracy and insight to illustrate with well-chosen and striking examples not just the process by which George Smith was brought to justice but also the entire social milieu from which his victims were drawn as well as telling insights into the tensions in the English legal system in the early 20th century between the dramatic oratorical style of the Victorian era, personified by Smith's defence counsel Marshal Hall and the emergent scientific approach of the prosecution team whose pathologist, Bernard Spilsbury cemented his reputation with this case.

The author concludes with interesting reflections on later challenges to Spilsbury's reputation, both during his lifetime as he became increasingly dogmatic in realms perhaps beyond his own expertise and also what present scientific opinion would have to say about his evidence in this case.

This text wears its considerable scholarship lightly, and is a gripping read, but is well-footnoted (and generously illustrated)for those anxious to explore further. My one (pedantic perhaps) complaint is that in England witnesses in court do not "take the stand", they "enter the witness box".
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific detective story 4 April 2010
By Kindle Customer VINE VOICE
This is Jane Robins' second book and every bit as enjoyable, meticulously researched and well written as the first.

This is history as a page turning Edwardian detective story. Starting with the unexpected marriage of a provincial spinster to a handsome, London picture restorer the narrative takes in several equally improbably unions each sadly curtailed by the death of the bride. The deaths, first attributed to tragic misadventure, are only gradually revealed as an apparent series of domestic murders (the kind Orwell reminded us we like best). In the absence of a central police data base or google it's not until the father of one of the brides sees the reported death of another in the paper that suspicions are pursued. From there, the talents first of an assiduous detective then of the brilliant forensics expert, Spilsbury, change both the method of solving a crime and the court room resources of the prosecution forever.

The action reads like a novel, as gripping and impossible to put down as the best mystery. I hugely enjoyed it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Murder
I read this book in six days flat! Beautifully written account of an incredible triple-murder. The strange thing about this case is that Joseph Smith got away with three... Read more
Published 1 month ago by G. J. Harding
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
If you liked Devil In the White CIty then you'll like this. It doesn't quite reach the same heights as DITWC but that is an exceptional book. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Blue eyed enn
4.0 out of 5 stars I have not read it.
I bought this book for someone else. They said they liked it and so did the others in a book group.
Published 3 months ago by Olle Jones
4.0 out of 5 stars FASCINATING CASE
A valuable account of one of the best remembered murders of the twentieth century. It suggests that Spilsbury was not the inaccuarte villian sometiems claimed. Read more
Published 9 months ago by R. M. D. Bennett
5.0 out of 5 stars Very very good
Chilling. An excellent book describing the brides in the bath murders. A good description of the victims and their life styles. Read more
Published 10 months ago by yvonneschoenrock
1.0 out of 5 stars Dire
Dire dire dire!!!!
Am being told I need to write a minimum number of words to submit an entry. Done.
Published 11 months ago by Andrew Moon
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Buy
This book arrived on time, and is in very good condition, though I have not had time to read it yet I am sure it will be good.
Published 12 months ago by Ink
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating
There are many books concerning the Brides in the Bath murder case and others which feature the forensic and legal superstars of the day. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Mr. G. Lonsdale
4.0 out of 5 stars Really fascinating read
It is one of the best early 20th century crime books I've read. A fascinating amount of detail and written I n such a way you really can't put it down. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Alan Collins
5.0 out of 5 stars Brides in the bath
Excellent book and well written - would recommend it to my book reading friends. Really terrifying at rimes. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Mrs. S. Fishman
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