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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars in flagrante delicto
James Ruddick has researched this Victorian crime case with commendable zeal, going back to the original records and depositions in great detail. It concerns one Florence Bravo, a woman who, though born in the highest circles, was a fish out of water when it came to the sexual and romantic mores of her social class. Her first husband died of alcoholism, but by then she...
Published on 14 Sept. 2009 by Eileen Shaw

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1.0 out of 5 stars A New Book With An Old Solution
If you haven't read anything about the fascinating Balham Priory case then this may be a good introduction. However, two points grate. First, some reviews believe that Ruddick cracked the case. Hardly. His solution is virtually identical to the one espoused by John Williams as long ago in 1976, despite Ruddock travelling around the world searching for new evidence...
Published 15 months ago by Matthew Jones


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars in flagrante delicto, 14 Sept. 2009
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
James Ruddick has researched this Victorian crime case with commendable zeal, going back to the original records and depositions in great detail. It concerns one Florence Bravo, a woman who, though born in the highest circles, was a fish out of water when it came to the sexual and romantic mores of her social class. Her first husband died of alcoholism, but by then she had left him and taken sanctuary with a highly respected doctor, William Gully. When they were found in flagrante delicto at the house of acquaintances they were ostracised by society, with both of their reputations in tatters.

This might have been the end of the story but Florence was a resourceful young woman and took up with a man, who, although she suspected him of desiring her money more than her person, threw caution to the wind and married him. Charles Bravo, however, proved to be a profound mistake on Florence's part and they were at loggerheads almost at once. There were miscarriages as well as flurries over finances and suggestions from Florence that his sexual proclivities were unsavoury.

Then Bravo was found one night in the throes of a terrible attack, from which he soon died. Poison was suspected, but at the end of a gruelling inquest no blame could be apportioned, though the newspapers of the time speculated about both Florence and her companion, Mrs Cox, and the role they might have played in the crime.

Ruddick goes back most entertainingly over the whole of this story and comes up with a verdict that satisfies him. It didn't entirely satisfy me, though it is as plausible a story as anyone else has been able to envisage. There is an appalling lapse of grammar three-quarters of the way through, but apart from that the book is written with brisk dispatch and a sharp journalistic flair. It makes a good delve into Victorian society's less salubrious back yard, particularly when it comes to the prevailing attitude towards women.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Murder Mystery Solved?, 28 Jun. 2012
This review is from: Death at the Priory: Love, Sex and Murder in Victorian England (Paperback)
As I read this book I had to keep reminding myself that this story relates to real people and real events because, like many people, I am used to reading/watching crime thrillers based on nothing but the authors imagination.

In April 1876 Charles Bravo died at his London home. He had been poisoned and died in unimaginable pain after various eminent doctors had failed to save his life. No-one was ever convicted of his murder. Initially the faint possibility that he had drunk the poison himself, and had therefore committed suicide, was considered, but this idea was quickly discounted, and the search for the murderer began. There were several possible suspects and Florence, his wife of just a few months, was obviously high on the list, but other members of the household were also possible suspects.

Mr Ruddick's book sets out the known facts in a clear and rather entertaining manner. Mrs Bravo's life reads like a racy novel as she had been married a young age to an abusive alcoholic who conveniently died and left her a fortune. She then had a passionate relationship with an elderly and highly respected doctor, before marrying the barrister Charles Bravo. The marriage seemed destined to fail as Charles was marrying for money and Florence was marrying in a bid to regain some respectability after details of her affair with Dr Gully had been made public. Having given us all the basic facts known about the case, the author goes on to present some new information he has discovered. He feels he has finally solved the mystery and can now name the guilty person. I think he is probably right in his assumption, but I am not sure if he has actually proved anything. From the very start this seemed most likely scenario. The new information shows that that this is still the most likely scenario, but I am not sure a court would find the case proved. The book however is a really great read. It is indeed an intriguing mystery and I can understand the fascination it has generated over the last 130+ years. I just had to remember that Mr & Mrs Bravo were real people and this death was not only a horrifically painful event for Mr Bravo, it affected a lot of people's lives.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Victorian Crime Whodunit, 8 July 2014
By 
C. Bannister (Jersey, CI) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
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This review is from: Death at the Priory: Love, Sex and Murder in Victorian England (Paperback)
Poison was a familiar murder weapon in Victorian England with many a tale abounding of arsenic used to gain a fortune, do away with a rival or an inconvenient spouse.

In this book James Ruddick believes he has uncovered the real truth of the perpetrator of Charles Bravo’s death by poison in 1876. Charles Bravo was a rich man who suffered an agonising death spread over three days. Poison was the culprit and the inquest into his death lasted a lengthy five weeks with journalists sending stories to all corners of England’s vast empire, but no-one was ever convicted of his murder, the problem was there were just too many suspects.

This is a fascinating portrait of the time as well as being a real life murder mystery. Ruddick begins by detailing the facts as they were presented to the inquest, scandalous evidence that included adultery and abortion but also the more prosaic truth of the hardships of a Victorian woman, even if she was rich which Florence Draco was. Her companion Mrs Fox was not and worse she had three young sons to support. Both women could be considered victims of circumstance and both were suspected, but never charged with, Charles Draco’s murder.

In the second part of the book Ruddick examines the evidence and details his efforts to trace the descendants of al the main parties in an attempt to flush out the truth. Does he succeed? Well some of the discrepancies highlighted, I had spotted by reading the evidence in the first part and I’m not entirely convinced about some of the ‘evidence’ that the families provided although one crucial piece does shed a different light on the matter. On balance I agreed with the author.

This was well-written and informative and far beyond the investigation a fascinating portrait of Victorian Britain.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Ripping Yarn, 4 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Death at the Priory: Love, Sex and Murder in Victorian England (Paperback)
The Bravo mystery is a truly Victorian melodrama and James Ruddick tells it very well. A fine cast of characters and everything you would expect from a novel, which makes this real-life tale all the more gripping. The style of writing is more journalistic than most serious studies of the case (but no worse for that) and is a really enjoyable read. This is the third book I have read on the Bravo case, it is well researched and brings some fresh "evidence" woven into an oft-told tale, Ruddick pointing the finger at Bravo's wife, Florence(with a little help from her companion Jane Cox). However, the story is truly straight from an Agatha Christie novel - there are several solutions which are credible, (Mrs Christie herself disagreed with the author and fingers James Gulley as the most likely murderer). Another excellent book on the subject is "Murder at the Priory" by Bernard Taylor and Kate Clarke, a less colourful but more an in-depth study; the authors point their respective fingers at the companion Jane Cox. Author Yeseult Bridges book on the subject suggests yet another scenario, that Bravo poisoned himself by accident whilst attempting to slowly poison Florence. There is no way anyone can be sure of the true murderer(s) after so many years, partly due to the ineptitude of the police investigation at the time, but the author does present a scenario which is perfectly plausible. He does "crow" a little too much, saying he's found new and incontravertable evidence to expose the true culprit (he hasn't),and he will prove his theory beyond any doubt (he doesn't), but this minor irritation aside,the book is a fascinating read, and great addition to any True Crime buff's collection.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Victorian crime at its most gruesome and fascinating, 17 July 2010
Very interesting take on a famous Victorian crime (although admittedly, not one I'd heard of). Charles Bravo, husband of Florence, is poisoned one night using Antimony, a corrosive poison which steadily erodes his internal organs. It takes three agonising days for Charles to die, but what follows is the really intriguing part. As well as trying to establish who did it (something that was never proven in 1876 at the time of the murder) Ruddick also explores the lives of all the characters involved. Florence Bravo, married once before and involved in a scandalous affair with Dr Gully, a powerful and influential physician of his day. Dr Gully, Florence's lover, who made no secret of his distain for Charles Bravo and his marriage to Florence. And the mysterious Mrs Cox, companion to Florence and staunchly loyal to her mistress. All are suspects, and Ruddick's narrative weaves the lives of these people so well, you almost feel as if you know them.

The conclusions Ruddick makes about the case, based on files from the police reports at the time, Home Office records and extensive media coverage, make for interesting reading and wraps the whole thing up nicely, without once making you feel like you've missed anything. It's very easy to read and follow (partly due to the lack of footnotes and appendices that this type of book so often has) and brings to life an intriguing story 130 years after the event.
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1.0 out of 5 stars A New Book With An Old Solution, 11 Jan. 2014
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This review is from: Death at the Priory: Love, Sex and Murder in Victorian England (Paperback)
If you haven't read anything about the fascinating Balham Priory case then this may be a good introduction. However, two points grate. First, some reviews believe that Ruddick cracked the case. Hardly. His solution is virtually identical to the one espoused by John Williams as long ago in 1976, despite Ruddock travelling around the world searching for new evidence. Williams Book was extremely thorough and, in my view, far better. Second, Ruddock believes the evidence for the exact nature of Bravo's "grave" sexual conduct against his wife is "incontrovertible". It is nothing of the sort but consists of an unsubstantiated interpretation of the phrase "persistent line of conduct." Further, without independent corroboration (and Mrs Bravo's doctor Dr Gill did NOT give evidence) it is the view of Mrs Bravo, herself a prime suspect in the case.
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4.0 out of 5 stars How did Bravo die ?, 9 Mar. 2008
This review is from: Death at the Priory: Love, Sex and Murder in Victorian England (Paperback)
I found this book to be extremely well-written and impressive. The author's efforts to trace surviving members of the Campbell and Ricardo families being admirable and thorough. Nevertheless, I cannot agree with his conclusion. Far from being a muderess, Florence Bravo was, in my opinion, a victim. I think that many of the strange events surrounding the deathbed of Charles Bravo can be explained by regarding his death as an accident brought about by his own actions. The author who got closest to the truth was, I believe, Yseult Bridges, who lays out a convincing case for Bravo having poisoned himself with the very antimony with which he intended to murder his wife. His motive was money and pure greed.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Conclusive verdict on the Bravo case?, 18 Mar. 2010
By 
CJ (Cheshire) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Death at the Priory: Love, Sex and Murder in Victorian England (Paperback)
The Priory of the title is the erstwhile home of Charles and Florence Bravo, which achieved notoriety as the scene of Charles Bravo's mysterious death in 1875. The case is a classic and has been written about many times, but seldom so well as this. James Ruddick takes the reader calmly and dispassionately through the evidence he has assembled, some of which appears to be unique to this book. A carefully reseached, coherently written account, which is a must read for true crime enthusiasts with an interest in the great Victorian poisoning cases.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars book of the year, 25 Dec. 2001
By A Customer
I have read all five books on the Bravo murder mystery and found this one to be far and away the best. It was fascinating, disturbing, gripping and sad. Some Bravo aficionadoes will be irritated by Ruddick's editing process, because his account is largely impressionistic, and he cuts out much of the boring detail from the inquest; but everything that should be there is included and because of his editorial decisions the book gallops along at a cracking pace. Added to this, Ruddick has a natural storyteller's mind, like Ruth Rendell, and his writing is unputdownable from the first page. (I read it in two sittings.) What makes the book linger in the mind is the absolutely intractable mystery of Bravo's sudden death, and the clever way in which the author juxtaposes both old and new - the 19th Century drama alongside the modern criminal investigation. The Guardian reports that Death at the Priory has out-sold all previous versions of this mystery and I'm certain it will become a crime classic.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars gripping from the first page, 10 Oct. 2001
By A Customer
I started this book late one evening intending to read just the first chapter. At 2am I was still turning the pages. What a read! Ruddick brilliantly weaves all sorts of issues about Victorian society and its dark repressions into the text of a great thriller. Its a crime story that grabs you by the neck and stays with you long after you've finished it.
Toria Maybey
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Death at the Priory: Love, Sex and Murder in Victorian England
Death at the Priory: Love, Sex and Murder in Victorian England by James Ruddick (Paperback - 12 Sept. 2002)
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