Nancy Oakes's Reviews > Death at the Priory: Love, Sex, and Murder in Victorian England

Death at the Priory by James Ruddick
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Feb 12, 08

bookshelves: nonfiction
Read in December, 2005

To be very honest, I first came across Florence Bravo, wife of murdered Charles Bravo, in the book by Mary S. Hartman called Victorian Murderesses so I had no idea what this book was going to be about before I picked it up and started reading. I have this thing about British murder cases past and present, so this one was right up my alley, offering an inside look into a Victorian home, family & society. It seems that Mr. Charles Bravo was poisoned in a most grueling and painful way at his home and while there were more than a few people with a motive to off the guy, no one was ever arrested in connection with the case. So enter James Ruddick, journalist and author, who decides to tackle Bravo's murder by sifting through the court records (at the inquest), the sources from Scotland Yard, going to the actual scene of the crime, and following leads that he gets in the process. If you consider yourself to be an armchair detective (like me) you will certainly enjoy the trip through the book. I didn't want to stop reading once I finished it.

It ssems that Florence Bravo had married her husband Charles not out of love, but in order to restore her reputation in society. Florence had been married earlier to a Captain Ricardo, who beat her and treated her terribly. I mention this because Florence left home to go back to her family home, and eventually started the separation process. Rather than go back home, her parents convinced her to go spend some time at Malvern, in a sanitarium where hydrotherapy was all the rage, under the guidance of one Dr. Gully, who was physician to the likes of Disraeli and Charles Darwin. He was much older than Florence, but the two fell in love and started a love affair. Well, it just so happens that Florence's husband dies; she and Gully are still going strong and they get caught doing the do while guests of a friend. Word gets out - Gully is a married man and Florence is behaving in ways that women shouldn't. So Florence becomes a social pariah -- so when her companion, the very bizarre Mrs. Cox, sets her up with Charles Bravo. Florence sees a way out of her situation and marries him. But all is not happy in the Bravo household: Charles wants to take over the household, Florence's fortune left to her by her former husband, and Florence herself. Then Charles dies, but no one is ever charged with his murder.

Ruddick sets out to solve the question of who offed Charles & why. It turns out that there are several members of the household with motives to kill Charles along with Dr. Gully, Florence's ex-lover. Ruddick sifts through inquest testimony, visits the scene of the crime, interviews living descendants and works out a solution to the murder which I must say I found incredibly plausible and went along with what I thought the solution was myself. I won't give it away, but if you read very carefully it leaps out at you.

I'd definitely recommend this book to people who enjoy a good murder mystery and to people who enjoy Victorian crime and history. It is well worth every second you put into it.
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