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The Curious Habits of Dr Adams: A 1950s Murder Mystery Hardcover – 23 May 2013
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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)
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.See all Product description
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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. He was either generous enough with his time to help these old people to manage their financial affairs; or he was an avaricious crook, using his position to force them to make him a beneficiary in their wills and then hastening their deaths to prevent them changing their minds.
Robins handles the mass of information available to her well, telling the complex story clearly and plainly. She brings the various participants to life - the police officer investigating the case, the journalists reporting on it and the various residents of Eastbourne who were either for or against Adams. The picture of Adams himself is of course crucial and Robins shows him through the eyes of both his supporters and accusers, leaving the reader to judge the truth of the man.
The trial itself was apparently a huge sensation, the longest murder trial that had ever been held in Britain at that time, and the description of it is fascinating. Robins shows us each witness and how they held up under the questioning of the defence team, led by noted barrister Geoffrey Lawrence. Since I didn't know the outcome of the trial, the tension built nicely and I found myself arguing along with both prosecution and defence at different points. The judge wrote about the trial years later and this allows Robins to show us what his opinion was, not just of Adams, but also of the evidence and the conduct of the case. And finally, Robins wraps up with the aftermath of the case in terms of politics, the press and the people involved; and only then does she give us her own verdict on Adams.
All-in-all, I found this a fascinating, absorbing read. I have carefully tried to avoid spoilers since, although obviously the case and its outcome is a matter of public record, I assume there will be other people like myself who don't know about it, in which case this can easily be read as an intriguing mystery as well as a thoroughly researched and very well told history of a true investigation. Highly recommended.
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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