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The Damnation of John Donellan: A mysterious case of death and scandal in Georgian England Paperback – 5 Jul 2012
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|Paperback, 5 Jul 2012||
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A masterpiece of well-founded suspicions based on first-hand evidence (Iain Finlayson The Times)
A fascinating account of a Georgian cause celebre ... just as Kate Summerscale did brilliantly in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Cooke focuses on legal procedure and forensic evidence to gripping effect (Kathryn Hughes Mail on Sunday)
I read this with great enjoyment. The author has produced a forensically detailed examination of a murder with a witty picture of the social world of the gentry at the end of the eighteenth century. Her eye and ear for the period are unerring. A delight. (Judith Flanders The Invention of Murder)
Highly readable ... gripping (Daily Express)
A shocking tale of greed and family betrayalSee all Product description
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Elizabeth Cooke's book is an entertaining read that could quite easily been buried in dry facts. She brings a sense of the times to the events that happened at Lawford Hall during that warm summer of 1780. The young Baronet, a headstrong womaniser, had come down with syphilis and was under the care of the local apothecary. What truly happened that day in August is still shrouded in mystery and conjecture.
Rumour had it that Theodocius Boughton had been poisoned. Whether this was true or not, was less concerning than the rumour. Once the rumour was started, the search was on for a poisoner, irrespective of whether a poisoning took place. The accused was John Donellan.
The book follows the aftermath of the death and the subsequent trial of Donellan, followed by an analysis by the author and the thoughts of others that had looked at the case in the subsequent years.
Whilst entertaining, this is not a classic whodunit. Unlike fiction, factual events rarely have clear cut and definitive answers, so anyone looking for a simple `was Donellan guilty?' will be disappointed. However, the journey is worth the time and provides an entertaining read.
The editing is of a high quality with few grammatical errors.
What follows is a battle between Lady Anna Maria and her daughter's (the equally delightfully named Theodosia) husband John Donellan. Did somebody tamper with Theodosius's physick? Was Anna Maria attempting to blackmail Donellan into doing what she wanted within hours of her sons death? Did Donellan's refusal to do what Anna Maria wanted lead to his arrest on purely circumstantial evidence, or was he a fortune hunter who resented his younger brother in law? This book is full of scandal, gossip and sheer horror - including a ghoulish public autopsy where the corpse was reported to be, "a spectacle of horror scarce to be endured" and the death of a servant who may have had vital evidence.
Both the death and the trial are wonderfully recreated and the whole book, including the conclusion, well documented and interesting, if often sad. Whether Donellan was guilty or not, it is certain that he never had a fair trial, but read this yourself and make your own mind up. It is guaranteed you will be unable to put this down until you have finished it.
It is a literary "cold case" - a man is dead and there are several possible explanations and several possible murderers - if murder it was!
Thinking of the way in which the book is constructed I am left with a sense of awe for the amount of research that has gone in to it and the cross referencing about timings, motives and relationships. Like Elizabeth Cooke I needed to check and double check and keep telling myself that it was fact and not fiction.
I am not certain that I liked any of the characters - Anna Maria is certainly a mother in law from hell and, as for Justice Buller, well - he should be taken out and shot!
Intrigued? Still think that the old days were better? Read this fascinating and intriguing tale and find out.
The author gave just the right amount of background history of the people involved and it was interesting to read about what happened after.
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