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Books by the Blogger:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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paperback | hardcover (UK)

THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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paperback | hardcover (UK)

PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« Ellis, Rhian: After Life | Main | Cohen, Paula Marantz: Jane Austen in Boca »

Ruddick, James: Death at the Priory

  

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Grove Press © 2002, 224 pages [amazon]
4 stars

In the spring of 1876 Charles Bravo, a thirty-year-old barrister, was murdered at the Priory, his home in south London. His death was a particularly horrific one as the poison that was used, a massive dose of tartar emetic (a derivative of antimony), is a highly corrosive substance. In the three days it took Bravo to die, the poison "burned through the tissue lining his alimentary canal" and ate away at his large intestine until it had all but disintegrated. The police eventually determined that Bravo's death was not a straightforward case of suicide, but who among Bravo's household or acquaintances had the means and motive to kill him? There were numerous suspects: the coachman George Griffiths, whom Bravo had recently dismissed and who had publicly prophesied his former employer's death; Bravo's wife Florence, who had suffered two miscarriages already in their five-month marriage and whom Bravo was eager to impregnate again; Florence's former lover James Gully, the respected doctor who numbered among his patients Charles Darwin and Florence Nightingale; Florence's female companion and mother figure, Jane Cox, whom Bravo had also threatened with dismissal. Despite the abundance of likely suspects, however, the Bravo murder investigation, one of the Victorian era's most infamous cases, was never solved.

His death was a particularly horrific one as the poison that was used, a massive dose of tartar emetic (a derivative of antimony), is a highly corrosive substance.Over the more than 120 years since Bravo's murder, the case has attracted considerable attention, with armchair detectives, among them Agatha Christie, attempting to puzzle out a solution to the unsolved crime. James Ruddick follows in this tradition, although he differs from his predecessors in using as evidence not only the records of the Coroner's inquest from which they derived information, but also original police records and the testimony of surviving relatives of the principals. Ruddick claims to have uncovered in his research evidence which has enabled him finally to expose the murderer. The evidence Ruddick offers is perhaps not as definitive as he suggests--while it does appear to exculpate one of the suspects, it does not prove the guilt of the person he fingers for the crime--but the author's reconstruction of the murder is indeed a persuasive one.

Death at the Priory is an example of popular history at its finest. It is fast-paced and suspenseful. The prose is highly readable. (My favorite sentence: "An unhappy woman with easy access to weedkiller had to be watched carefully.") And the story Ruddick tells--of the murder and its investigation, and of Florence's abusive first marriage and scandalous affair with James Gully--is inherently fascinating. There were occasions, however, when I wanted more information. What, for example, was that notorious Victorian malady "brain fever" that Florence was thought to be suffering from at one point? And what was so "famous" (as Ruddick refers to it) about the Bridge of Sighs that separated the men's quarters from the women's at Dr. Gully's clinic? (And is this bridge indeed famous, or has Ruddick transferred the epithet from the better known Bridge of Sighs in Venice?) I also had some questions, not necessarily damning, about Ruddick's reconstruction of the crime. (Why, for example, given his reconstruction, did Jane Cox go to such lengths to try to revive Charles Bravo after his collapse?) These might have been resolved at once had Ruddick been across the room from me while I was reading, but, strangely, he was not.

These minor issues aside, Ruddick's contribution to the literature on the Bravo cases makes excellent, nearly un-put-downable reading.

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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.