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Death at the Priory: Love, Sex, and Murder in Victorian England
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Death at the Priory: Love, Sex, and Murder in Victorian England

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  1,388 ratings  ·  155 reviews
In 1875 the beautiful widow Florence Ricardo married the handsome and successful young attorney Charles Bravo, hoping to escape the scandals of her past. But Bravo proved to be a brutal and conniving man, and the marriage was far from happy. Then one night he suddenly collapsed, and three days later died an agonizing death. His doctors immediately determined that he had be ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published November 27th 2002 by Grove Press (first published 2001)
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Rating Clarification: 4.5 Stars

I haven't been this invigorated by a good ole "husband behaving badly" book since I read Wedlock The True Story of the Disastrous Marriage and Remarkable Divorce of Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore. If Andrew Stoney was the crowned winner for the "Mr. Shitty Husband of the 18th Century" contest for his sociopathic antics documented in "Wedlock", then the heir apparent for the 19th century must surely pass to Charles Bravo (of this book). Fortunately for F
Oct 30, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people who like their cold cases extra chilled
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: bookcrossing peoples
At first glance you might pick this up and think "ooh some kind of slightly sordid Nun/Vicar love tryst in buttoned up Victorian England which ultimately ends in murder most horrid."

Er, nope sorry you're wrong. This is the coldest of all the Cold Case files well, unless you count those people on National Geographic who are always trying to figure out if certain Egyptian Mummies were murdered and or were related to Tutankhamun but you should probably just ignore those because Egyptology is the mo
Mar 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book is a must for anyone who enjoys true crime and period books. It is set in the Victorian era, which makes it even more scandalous considering how stringent the rules of decorum were back then. I picked this book up randomly when I was going through a true crime reading phase. I could not put it down! How interesting it is to peek into the lives of this mysterious and scandalous murder from over 100 years ago. Amazing that this mystery is still kept alive. It is further eery by the fact ...more
Nancy Oakes
Feb 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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 ho ...more
Amy Sturgis
This is a study of the unsolved murder (by poisoning with antimony) of Charles Bravo (1845-1876), a young British barrister. The first half of the book recounts the story of Bravo's wife, her somewhat scandalous life before their marriage, and Bravo's own (mis)behavior until his death. The second half follows the author's new research and attempt to solve the murder (which is, for the most part, largely convincing). Ruddick should be applauded for the three-dimensional, sympathetic, and insightf ...more
Jul 13, 2008 rated it liked it
This is an interesting read of an old, unsolved murder mystery that took place in the 1870's. The author presents his argument about what actually happened, which was sometimes contrived, but I enjoyed the picture of Victorian life. A fairly quick and easy read.
Cleo Bannister
Poison was a familiar murder weapon in Victorian England with many a tale abounding of arsenic used to gain a fortune, do away with a rival or an inconvenient spouse.

In this book James Ruddick believes he has uncovered the real truth of the perpetrator of Charles Bravo’s death by poison in 1876. Charles Bravo was a rich man who suffered an agonising death spread over three days. Poison was the culprit and the inquest into his death lasted a lengthy five weeks with journalists sending stories to
Nov 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
The fatal poisoning of Charles Bravo in 1876 remains a great, unsolved mystery. As James Ruddick shows in this engrossing account, there was no shortage of suspects. Among them were Bravo's wife, Florence, who married the young barrister in part to erase the taint of a recent sexual scandal; Jane Cox, a servant caught spinning a web of lies about what happened the night Bravo died; and James Gully, an esteemed doctor who was also once Florence's lover. Death at the Priory is full of compelling p ...more
Sep 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
An interesting look at an unsolved murder mystery in Victorian England. Florence Bravo, after suffering through an abusive first marriage, finds herself married to yet another abuser who insisted on forcing himself on her to produce an heir, even though she had miscarried two babies in a short span of time. But within five months of their wedding day, Charles Bravo collapsed and dies as a result of antimony poisoning. Who has administered the final dose? Several people close to Bravo have the mo ...more
Jan 13, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was quite a sensational murder in the late 1800s and no one was ever convicted of the murder though there was a lot of suspicion of both the wife, her ex-lover and her companion. This is also an example of a woman (the wife) being pilloried by Victorian society because she lived a non-conventional life (not quite a feminist, but definitely a free spirit in regard to her relationships) that everyone found out about as a result of the murder. The author recreates the murder scene as best he c ...more
Jul 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: true-crime
This is yet another book on the Balham Mystery, but it's an unusually good, readable one. The author examines all the evidence in the Bravo case -- including a great deal of information not covered at the inquest -- and interprets it in a pretty convincing way, with great compassion for not only the victim, but the suspects. This remains true even even when he is pointing the finger at one of them and saying "murderer!" The writing is very good and keeps you turning the pages -- not usually a fe ...more
Aug 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Great slice of Victorian England focused on what is like to be a woman during the time. Kind of amazing protagonist and story. Agatha Christie couldn't figure it out? That actually doesn't surprise me.
Sep 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who likes true crime
Recommended to Mary by: Paperback Swap
In December of 1875, the beautiful widow Florence Ricardo married a handsome and influential young attorney named Charles Bravo. The dissolution of Florence's first marriage as well as the revelation of her affair with prominent doctor James Gully, had led to her becoming a social pariah. However, her marriage to Charles Bravo was Florence's way of escaping the scandals of her past; and she fervently hoped that such a marriage would reopen certain doors which had formerly been closed to her.

As t
Talulah Mankiller
May 20, 2010 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 05, 2011 rated it liked it
This was interesting and a quick read...boy, those Victorian ladies didn't have a whole lot of options. I've never thought of myself as a feminist, but I think I would have become one if I lived then! Interestingly....I found it very difficult to like Florence...and I didn't like Florence Maybrick who I don't believe murdered her husband, but would have had just as many reasons as this Florence...if in fact this Florence did it! Who in thier right mind would think that if getting married meant t ...more
Simon Thompson
Feb 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Feb 2014
This book has been hanging about on the "to-do" pile for years now. I don't know what made me choose it but I'm glad I did.

I'd heard about the celebrated Charles Bravo murder of 1876 but never knew the full story.

Apparently a whole whodunnit industry sprung up shortly after and public attention remained active for many decades.

The author, James Ruddick, does a great job of setting the scene, explaining the social mores of Victorian Britain and exploring all the possibilities of the mur
Jun 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I devoured this book in one day. It's so delightfully sordid (in true underground Victorian style) and suspenseful, and yet it clearly communicates the plight of Victorian women. The social commentary is convincing without being heavy handed. I started reading last night, woke at 330 a.m. to read more, and pushed almost everything aside in my full schedule to complete the book in one day. For me, the plausibility of the author's theory is almost irrelevant; the story is so darn good. Highly reco ...more
Jan 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
Well- researched, well written and more entertaining than a game of Clue! On April 18, 1876 someone gave James Bravo a fatal dose of antimony. Was it the housekeeper, the stableman, the wife, the wife's ex-lover, or Colonel Mustard with the candlestick in the billiards room? Or perhaps even Charles himself? The case is true, the characters tragic, the coincidences fabulous. I mean, "Bravo, Gully!"? The mind just boggles. A recommended read.
Feb 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Plausible solution, but who knows if the author's explanation is what happened or if the crime ever really will be solved.
Sandra D
Feb 14, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sandra D by: Stephanie
The author's self-congratulatory tone in describing his solution to this mystery was a jarring note in what was otherwise a quick, enjoyable read.
Apr 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
The author wrote like a pompous ass. Ambiguity was fact when it fit his story, but hearsay or dubious when it didn't.
May 29, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: true crime lovers
This was an interesting story, because it gave a realistic peek into life in Victorian England. It read well for non-fiction, although the author repeated various quotes too often for my taste.
Marianna Green
Oct 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Bill reilly
Sep 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
This fairytale begins with the marriage of the headstrong Florence Campbell to a career military man, Alexander Ricardo. Flo convinced Al to give up his uniform and stay at home for a life of gentility. Boredom with his wife’s itinerary caused Ricardo to drink excessively and smack his wife around a bit. This was 1868, when wives were considered property of their husbands. She left Al to live to live at a health resort run by a Dr. James Gully. Although in his 60’s, the two began an affair. Alex ...more
Katie Bee
Jul 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2018-books-read
So there are two elements at play in this book: the celebrated Balham Mystery, and Ruddick's belief that he alone has miraculously solved what everyone else has been too dunderheaded to see all along.

Ruddick does a pretty good job of presenting the background and progression of the case in the first half of the book (although his attitude toward Bravo's horrific treatment of Florence is a bit too cavalier). The second half is less successful. Ruddick presents a plausible theory, sure, but in th
May 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, mystery
The author has researched three families on either side of the Atlantic to solve a Victorian murder case in which no one was charged, for lack of evidence. He meticulously lays out the facts of this scandal as they were known at the time, then details additional facts that he was able to uncover, and comes up with a plausible conclusion. Gives interesting insight into the plight of upper class Victorian women, but in the end I couldn't bring myself to care very much about any of the real-life ch ...more
Crissy Brounce
May 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: true-crime
Well researched, intriguing mystery! Though it was a sad story and I felt really bad for all involved, it was very interesting and really well laid out. The author gave thorough but not tedious histories of the key people involved. I really felt for all of them as in the end, they were all victims. I do agree with the author’s conclusions but appreciated how he laid out evidence for and against. I got the audio book and the narrator was phenomenal. Highly recommend for anyone interested in this ...more
Aug 12, 2018 rated it liked it
The first half was an excellent peek inside a Victorian scandal that is truly scandalous even by today’s standards. However, the second half was written in a way that I found more difficult to read and this is the part in which the author lays out his theory on who killed Mr. Bravo. It was also somewhat less interesting because it was filled with a lot of conjecture and seemed incredibly speculative.
Lauren Bradshaw
May 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: school-books
I lost interest after the actual murder and just skimmed the rest, but the murder was pretty cool. Florence was so interesting because it seemed like she should be from today but she was born in the 19th century. Overall the actual story was good but when he started explaining all the details and the discoveries it got boring.
Marianne Evans
Oct 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Those naughty but bold Victorian Women and their poisons were truly at the forefront of Women’s Liberation. I appreciate all the research this author did to try to solve a cold case. He convinced me.
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