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The Curious Habits of Dr. Adams: A 1950s Murder Mystery [Paperback]

Jane Robins
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
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Book Description

12 Sep 2013

'Was rich Mrs Gertrude Hullett murdered at her luxurious 15-room home on Beachy Head? Detectives are tonight trying to establish the cause of the 50-year-old widow's sudden death...' Daily Mail, 1957

In July 1957, the press descended in droves on the south-coast town of Eastbourne. An inquest had just been opened into the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Mrs Bobbie Hullett. She died after months of apparent barbiturate abuse - the drugs prescribed to calm her nerves by her close friend and doctor, Dr John Bodkin Adams.

The inquest brought to the surface years of whispered suspicion that had swept through the tea rooms, shops and nursing homes of the town. The doctor's alarming influence over the lives, deaths and finances of wealthy widows had not gone unnoticed - it was rumoured that the family doctor had been on a killing spree that spanned decades and involved 300 suspicious cases. Superintendent Hannam of Scotland Yard was called in to investigate.

The Curious Habits of Dr Adams brilliantly brings to life the atmosphere of post-war England, and uses a wealth of new documents to follow the twists and turns of an extraordinary Scotland Yard murder enquiry. As expertly crafted as the best period detective novel, this book casts an entertainingly chilling light on a man reputed to be one of England's most prolific serial killers.


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Product details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: John Murray (12 Sep 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848544723
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848544727
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 12.8 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 28,311 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Jane Robins has written an endlessly enjoyable book, which reads like an Agatha Christie (Craig Brown Mail on Sunday)

She tells the story with great brio, and a real feeling for the vanished social milieu in which Adams operated (Lynn Barber Sunday Times)

The case against Adams as a serial killer is a classic of British crime, but Jane Robins takes nothing for granted. She re-examines the evidence, consults modern experts (some of whom worked on the enquiry into the activities of Dr Harold Shipman) and presents her own perturbing conclusions. On the basis of this book, would you have convicted the curiously behaved Dr Adams? (Saga)

Vividly characterised, wonderfully atmospheric and thoroughly riveting (Daily Mail)

This is a compelling, very well-written story. It will feed the British love of a good murder mystery. Robins gives her own verdict in the final chapter but her readers are the jury (Scotsman)

One to keep you alert on the beach (Observer)

A compelling account of a murder mystery (Oldie)

Vividly characterised, wonderfully atmospheric and thoroughly gripping (Evening Standard Book of the Year)

A gripping tale that bears an uncanny resemblance to the case of Harold Shipman (Sunday Telegraph)

Book Description

Perfect for fans of Kate Summerscale, this is the chilling true tale of Dr John Bodkin Adams, the family doctor suspected of murdering 160 of his patients in 1950s Eastbourne.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Curious Habits of Dr Adams 25 May 2013
By S Riaz HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I am not sure whether you should say that you 'enjoyed' a book about a real life murder trial, but I thought this was absolutely gripping from start to finish. It is the story of family doctor, John Bodkin Adams, who was accused in 1957 of murdering a patient in the hopes of inheriting her Rolls-Royce. If the charge seems bizarre, then so was much about Dr Adams - who had "curious habits" indeed, and who was the focus of much gossip and innuendo long before the case he was accused of went to trial.

Jane Robins does a masterful job of recreating this era and making you feel you are actually in Court during the trial. However, she begins with a brief biography of Dr Adams, who eventually became a GP in genteel Eastbourne. There are then several case histories of the doctor and how he treated elderly patients, who seemed to die with some regularity and under odd circumstances. Staff were suspicious of the GP - of how regularly he ended up in their wills, of how he took 'keepsakes' and the amount of drugs he gave them. These cases go all the way back to 1935 and the author has really done an excellent job in recreating events about these patients and their treatment, discussing several cases in great detail. However, the widowed lady who died, and who eventually caused the police to become interested in the doctor, was Bobbie Hullett and that was the murder he was initially accused of.

This was an interesting time for GP's, as most had resisted joining the recently founded NHS and were, at the time of Dr Adams arrest, considering going on strike. When Dr Adams was arrested, by the wonderfully named Superintendent Herbert Hannan, the case was seen as both personal and political. If a GP was blamed for the death of his elderly patients, more could be accused.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How do you find this man - guilty or innocent? 19 Aug 2013
By FictionFan TOP 100 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
In 1957, Dr John Adams, a general practitioner from Eastbourne, was tried for the murder of an elderly patient, ostensibly because he hoped to inherit her Rolls Royce. The investigation leading up to the trial was a press sensation, with rumours abounding that Adams had murdered as many as 300 patients. This book tells the story of the investigation and trial, and Jane Robins asks the reader to judge whether the eventual verdict was right or wrong - was Adams a mass-murderer in the mold of Harold Shipman or was he a maligned man?

After the trial the police files were sealed, but a decade ago they were re-opened following a successful Freedom of Information request. Robins has based much of the book on these files and on the record of the trial, and has also spoken to some of the children of the alleged victims. She tells us how the press reported the story, before and after the trial, and sets the book in its historical context by reminding the reader of what other events were happening around the same time as the deaths under investigation - the coronation of the Queen, the Suez crisis etc.

Adams himself was either a hard-working, caring GP who went out of his way to be available to his patients at all times of the day or night; or he was a scheming manipulative murderer who preyed on the elderly people, mainly women, who trusted him. He was either a kind man who popped in to see these often lonely people without being specifically asked; or he was an unscrupulous monster, forcing unnecessary medical treatments on people too weak and needy to refuse.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Strange World of 1950s Eastbourne 13 Jan 2014
By Balraj Gill VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was looking forward to this book after greatly enjoying "The Magnificent Spilsbury and the Case of the Brides in the Bath", the previous book by Jane Robins. I am glad to report that "The Curious Habits of Doctor Adams" was just as good, if not better in certain respects.

Robins here takes you on a journey back to the Eastbourne of the mid-20th century and specifically, the well-off widows living in grand houses complete with maids and nurses and of course a local doctor by the name of Adams, only too keen to come round to check up on these widows and ensure that their legal and financial affairs are taken care of..... before bumping them off with mega doses of morphine! I simplify here of course and at first glance, this seems to be the case, but the real beauty here is that what you think is a simple open and shut case becomes much more multi-faceted and nuanced when the court case arrives at the Old Bailey in 1957.

For me, the real hero of this book is Geoffrey Lawrence, the defence barrister for Dr. Adams. His mastery, both of the facts and of the English language, had me in awe. Lawrence easily outfoxes the prosecution's Manningham-Buller (the Attorney-General no less) via some delightful questioning of the nurses who were around at the time of the doctor's drug administering. But the most wonderful chapter sees the "mousy" Lawrence pitched against Dr. Arthur Douthwaite, the handsome, elegant physician whose commanding and lofty manner was banked on by the prosecution to seal their case. However, by the time that Lawrence had finished with him in court, Douthwaite was a broken man - even the judge thought that Douthwaite's testimony was "shambolic".

"The Curious Habits" is a great read and I think it would appeal to anyone who has an interest either in medicine, criminal law or British social history.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars BRILLIANT!
An extremely well researched book, admirably presented. A comprehensive, logical presentation of innumerable strands in this complex story of events spanning decades. Read more
Published 2 months ago by TheInventor
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
I remember the trial but had forgotten the outcome. This is an excellent account of the life of Dr Adams and his exploits. Read more
Published 2 months ago by P. M. Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars good doctor
this makes very good reading and exposes how easy these people could control and rob people something like todays conservative party
Published 3 months ago by john killick
5.0 out of 5 stars REAL MURDER
Such an absorbing story. I knew quite a bit already, but to have it laid out so expertly made for a great read.
Published 3 months ago by A. Murray
5.0 out of 5 stars A mass murderer?
Everything I had previously read of the case of Dr John Bodkin Evans had left me with the impression that he was a fussy and incompetent physician. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Shankly
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Stuff.
Interesting case. What would the outcome be if this was a current case, in the light of forensic developments & investigation techniques?
Published 6 months ago by Adam Toms
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating book
A well written book and as I have previous knowledge of the circumstances (not first hand) the the book is well written and clearly identifies the circumstances in which Dr Adams... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Quiltslm
2.0 out of 5 stars Looks interesting. But...
Have to say I started it but found it clumsily written and did not hold my attention. I am sorry!
Published 9 months ago by J. Jago
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping Read
I am a fan of true crime books and especially enjoy those of a historical nature such as The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Shelts
4.0 out of 5 stars Hard to believe
Takes you back to a time when the professions were treated with such defefence they could get away with murder. The police investigation should have led to a conviction in my view. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Kieran Galvin
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