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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. 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.
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VINE VOICEon 13 January 2014
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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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. Were the claims sensationalist, or were they more than rumour, blame and gossip? Some, like journalist Percy Hoskins, of the Daily Express, felt the press were taking events and making them sound worse than they were. Very like the case of Harold Shipman, opinions in the town where Dr Adams worked were highly divided. Some of his patients felt he was the best doctor they had ever known - caring, compassionate and hard working. Others felt he was money grabbing, rude and, in some cases, downright dangerous.

The trial took place at the Old Bailey in 1957 and it is recreated in fantastic detail. You will have to read the book yourself, follow the evidence and then decide whether or not you feel that Dr Adams was guilty or innocent. This book will certainly give you enough evidence to make your own opinions about the case and this would certainly be an excellent choice for reading groups - I am sure opinions will be as divided as they were at the time and it would lead to interesting discussions.

I have one complaint about this kindle book - the illustrations were included, but they are so small as to lose all of their detail and the writing is virtually unreadable. A publisher would not bring out a hardback copy of this book with the illustrations virtually lost - so, why do so in a kindle version? Kindle books are popular and often outselling paper copies and it is time the publishers treated kindle readers with the respect they deserve and produce the book properly - not as a poor second, with quality lost and the experience marred by shoddy work. Other publishers manage to produce illustrations properly, so it obviously can be done - and should be, or the price dropped accordingly. That aside, this is a truly riveting read and if you enjoy historical true crime books, this is one of the best I have read.
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on 24 May 2013
This is an excellent book, a more than worthy successor to Ms. Robin's earlier work on Sir Bernard Spilsbury and the Brides in the Bath murders. The trial of Dr. John Bodkin Adams was undobtedly one of most interesting and most sensational of the 20th century and had interesting parallels with the later case of Dr. Harold Shipman, in that although Dr. Adams was only tried for one murder it wass widely rumoured that he had killed perhaps hundreds of his elderly patients.

There have been quite a number of other books about this case but in my opinion it is clearly the best account of the case as a whole, that is to say the story of Dr. Adams's career and the social milieu in which he lived and practised before and after the Second World War (the trial was in 1957). The author's style is clear and vivacious, and she marshalls the fruits of her extensive research skilfully providing an insightful description of the events and character involved which adroitly avoids the pitfall of providing insufficient evidence of what is asserted or the opposite one of tedious recitation of minutiae. Ms Robins knows how to keep the narrative moving while both informing and entertaining (and quite often amausing) her readers.

A conspicuous virtue of the book is the author's ability to make clear what is fact and what is opinion, and openly to acknowledge those matters where one cannot be certain either of what happened or what was in someone's mind. She has taken the unusual step of taking a psychiatrist's opinion about Dr. Adams, and in the final chapter on the basis of that and her own assessment of the evidence ses out her own views on his guilt or innocence. This chapter is partiicularly notable for the way in which the author encourages the reader to look at all of the aspects and form his or her own opinion, while setting out clearly what her own view is and why she holds it.

I would unhesitatingly recommend this book. I spotted only one tiny, insignificant error, and the fact that I did so perhaps serves only to point up the quality of the photographic reproduction in the book.Dr. Adams had a penchant for motor cars, particularly Rolls-Royces, and one of the photos is captioned "Dr. Adams rides out in his customary Rolls-Royce..." For those who think the radiator grille is not quite the traditional classic shape, the answer is in the badge at its apex - it reads "MG".

The dramatic climax of this story is of course the trial, which is well handled in the book: for those who would like an even more detailed account with the analysis of the ultimate insider, I would recommend (if you can find it) "Easing the Passing" by the trial judge, Patrick Devlin, published in 1985. Ms. Robins quite rightly quotes from it extensively, but even after you have read her excellent treatment of this story, Lord Devlin's acerbic account of the trial, with its unforgettable skewering of the leading prosecution counsel "Reggie" (as he is referred to throughout) Manningham Buller, cannot fail to impress and amuse.
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Oh how I love a well-researched piece of historical crime and was very impressed by this author’s account of George Smith the ‘Brides in the Bath’ murderer and Dr Spilsbury who was an expert witness at this man’s trial in her book The Magnificent Spilsbury and the case of The Brides in the Bath. It was only natural then to seek out this, her next book about a Doctor who was a suspected serial killer.

John Bodkin Adams was born in Ireland, a God-fearing man born of devout parents and moved to Eastbourne with his sister and mother in 1922 where he took up a post as a General Practitioner. It must be remembered that these were the days before the NHS and so the practice was populated by the wealthier patient than a typical GP would see these days. He soon made his mark as a doctor who would turn out at any time of the day or night to attend his wealthy patients. So fond of them, especially the elder ladies, was he, that he often paid visits whether his attendance was needed or not. Jane Robins gives us an account of his years in practice, including his rather dire performance as an anaesthetist at the local hospital.

As interesting as this background is of course I wanted to know about the investigation and subsequent trial. It all started in July 1956 Eastbourne Police received a call about the death of one Gertrude known as Bobbie Hullett who had died, unexpectedly whilst in Dr Adams care, she was only 50 years old. A month later the Metropolitan Police took over from the local force. Detective Superintendent Herbert Hannam and Detective Sergeant Charles Hewett interviewed many residents of genteel Eastbourne where all manner of rumours were uncovered reaching back to the 1930s of inheritance of money and cars and other strange bequests but equally there were testimonials from those who adored the portly doctor. So death certificates were examined, as were wills because Hannam was convinced that Dr Adams was killing for cash and so began the laborious task of sifting through the paper trail.

Jane Robins is brilliant at presenting the facts and opposing views of this trial without seemingly steering the reader’s opinion one way or another for the bulk of the book. This could have been really heavy going with prescriptions for heroin, morphine and other sedatives frequently appearing as evidence along with bequests or presents of the odd gold pen here or a Rolls Royce there and a seemingly never-ending ream of elderly ladies doting on Dr Adams, but it wasn’t I just became more and more fascinated by the tale told complete with contemporary news stories and advertisements and a brilliant reconstruction of the world of the genteel inhabitants of Eastbourne at that time. All of this served to increase my interest in the hidden character of the man. And that is where the author comes into her own when at the end of the book, after the trial and when life in Eastbourne had recovered from all the excitement, she examined the psyche of the Doctor and presented her conclusions, with the help of a couple of expert witnesses of her own.

An absolutely brilliant read which I can’t recommend enough and for those of us who remember the more recent trial and conviction of Dr Harold Shipman, there are plenty of comparisons to be made.
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on 21 November 2015
A very interesting and well researched book. I found it especially instructive as being a child at the time of the trial living in Yorkshire and I knew nothing of the case. However, in the late 70s I found myself working in Eastbourne in the hospitals when I heard various things about the GP who used to park his Rolls Royce at the nursing home around the corner from where I lived. Indeed on one occasion I was introduced at work to the good doctor when he had brought one of his patients to us for an appointment.
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on 23 October 2013
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 worked.
For those who are not fully aware of the situation the book clarifies how in that era this kind of thing might happen.
A useful book for professionals who might be interested in hierarchy of the medical profession in the 50's.
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on 21 May 2014
An extremely well researched book, admirably presented. A comprehensive, logical presentation of innumerable strands in this complex story of events spanning decades. Thoroughly recommended for those of us who enjoy the gritty detail of investigative journalism.
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on 13 October 2013
I am a fan of true crime books and especially enjoy those of a historical nature such as The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. Being set in the 1950's and not having heard of Dr Adams before I was a little apprehensive about whether this book would interest me. I couldn't have been more wrong - I was gripped from the first page and read the whole book in a day. Highly recommended!!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 July 2013
This is an absorbing story in which one is unsure what the outcome will be despite the seemingly damning evidence that Dr Bodkin Adams was up to no good. Apart from the engrossing quality of the police investigations and the eventual trial for murder what I found fascinating was the description of the incredible number home-visits and attention that the well-off received from their GP who only seemed to have a small number of patients. What a difference from today's GPs with lists of thousands of patients. The other jaw-dropping aspect of this sorry tale is the lack of accountability over the prescription of potentially lethal drugs that are today severely restricted. Barbiturates, morphine and even heroin kept in unlocked drawers and prescribed in huge quantities.
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