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The Magnificent Spilsbury and the Case of the Brides in the Bath Hardcover – 1 Apr 2010
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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'. (Daily 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. An author tackling a story like this has to fight hard to avoid tipping into prurience and ghoulishness. Robins wins the fight, and 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)
'An author tackling a story like this has to fight hard to avoid tipping into prurience and ghoulishness. Robins wins the fight, and shines a light on a dark age for women.' (Independent on Sunday)
'With the precision of her main character, Jane Robins examines these murders...Robins is excellent at setting this story in its historical context' (Sunday Telegraph)
'Like its hero, The Magnificent Spilsbury teems with promise ...' (Culture)
'The Brides in the Bath and the rise of Spilsbury as the father of modern forensics are both well-worn tales, but Jane Robins has convincingly succeed in reworking them into a cracking good read. It is a deceptively delicate task to examine trial transcripts, police depositions, letters and newspaper accounts and reforge them with such admirable immediacy...Robins should prepare herself for a summer bestseller' (The Daily Telegraph)
Outstanding. The book is about a pre-war conman who drowned his wives in the bath. It made my jaw drop (Kate Kellaway, Observer)
A young woman marries. Before long, she drowns in her bath. No sign of a struggle. No suggestion of foul play. Edwardian England turns to Bernard Spilsbury to solve the mystery.See all Product description
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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!
It's a pity not more is known of the arch conman,the much married George Smith:he seemed to have a grudge against those women of a higher class than himself(he murdered these but spared his wives of a lower class)and was said to have hypnotised the Bishop of Croydon. Even his provenance and background is hazy and would repay more research,as would that of his victims who remain one-dimensional in this account.
A timeless tale of the unscrupulous preying on the desperate. Except that in 1910 they found each other via the pages of the Matrimonial Times rather than the Internet.
I throughly enjoyed it.
Jane Robins does three things in this book rather well; she re-examines the career of Bernard Spilsbury, reassessing his reputation and considering his contribution to the role of forensic pathology in the first part of the 20th century; she gives an excellently narrated account of the "Brides in the Bath" murders - the case that consolidated Spilsbury`s standing and brought him to public notice, and throughout the book she presents a wealth of historical detail providing a context for the modern reader which helps explain the social conditions, mores and position of women from the Edwardian era, on into the period of the First World War.
Robins - I think - treats Spilsbury with respect but is not afraid to question some aspects of his reputation; there is no doubt that he heralded in a new appreciation for scientific evidence and a fresh approach to crime investigation, but she also questions his working methods and objectivity, which I think is fair - I for one, feel that the Crippen case may well have been a miscarriage of justice.
The historical background she provides also makes it easier for the modern reader to understand how a rather weasel-like character like Smith was able to carry out his crimes, the social vulnerability women suffered due to the male/female population imbalance - and at a time before the further depletion of men of marriageable age due to the war.
There are probably better and more specific studies on both Spilsbury and this particular murder case available, but as a useful introduction for the casual reader this is a very good, recommendable book.
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