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

89. Death at the Priory: Sex, Love, and Murder in Victorian England by James Ruddick (2001)
Length: 209 pages
Genre: True Crime  
Started: 16 September 2014
Finished: 18 September 2014
Where did it come from? From Paperback Swap
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 15 September 2014
Why do I have it? I like true crime and James Ruddick is a new author for me.

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 the newlyweds settled into the Priory, Florence’s posh mansion outside London, the couple seemed destined to live a charmed life together. But the marriage was far from happy, as Charles proved to be a brutal, vindictive and conniving man. He abused and tormented his wife and antagonized her servants, ultimately dismissing her housekeeper and loyal companion, Mrs. Cox, despite her years of service. 

Then one night while preparing for bed, Charles Bravo suddenly collapsed. Although the greatest English physicians of the era – including the royal physician, Sir William Gull – were summoned to his bedside, they ultimately could do nothing to help him, and three days later Charles died an agonizing death. The doctors were unanimous in their diagnosis of the cause of his death: Charles Bravo had been poisoned.

The graphic and sensational details of the case would eventually capture the public imagination of Victorian England as the investigation dominated the press for weeks, and the list of suspects soon grew to include Florence; her former secret lover, the eminent doctor James Gully; her longtime companion and former housekeeper Mrs. Cox; and a recently dismissed stableman named George Griffiths.

Although press coverage of that era relied heavily on speculation surrounding the details of the case, the subsequent murder investigation was never resolved. No actual motive was ever discovered, and ultimately no murderer could be determined. And despite the efforts of numerous historians, criminologists, and many other esteemed writers since (including Agatha Christie), the case has remained unsolved for over a century.

Now James Ruddick retells this gripping story of love, greed, brutality and betrayal among the elite, offering an intimate portrait of Victorian culture and of one woman’s struggle to live in this repressive society. Simultaneously a murder mystery, a colorful social history, and a modern-day detective tale, Death at the Priory is a thrilling read and a window into a fascinating time. As Agatha Christie once claimed: “One of the most mysterious poisoning cases ever recorded.” 

I really enjoyed reading this book – I found it to be meticulously researched; clearly and precisely written, and I appreciated that James Ruddick’s writing was not in any way dry or technical – he had an easy and engaging way of stating the facts of the case. I would be delighted to learn that James Ruddick has written much more, because I thoroughly enjoy his economical writing style. I knew of the Charles Bravo Murder already, as I had read Elizabeth Jenkins’ wonderful book, Dr. Gully’s Story several years ago.

I give Death at the Priory: Sex, Love, and Murder in Victorian England by James Ruddick a resounding A+! 

A+! – (96-100%)
Till we Meet Again, Glow Brightly as Moonlight


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