DEATH AT THE PRIORY by James Ruddick
Kirkus Star


Love, Sex and Murder in Victorian England
Email this review


The strange death of Charles Bravo has long plagued mystery-writers and historians alike. Journalist Ruddick (Lord Lucan: What Really Happened<\I>, not reviewed) explores the story’s twists and turns, shedding new light on this 126-year-old intrigue.

After only a few troubled months of marriage to Florence Ricardo, Bravo became acutely ill, having apparently ingested poison, and died three days later. All the signs pointed to murder rather than suicide, but who had both motive and opportunity? An inquest probed several suspects, including his wife and her former lover, but the true killer was never exposed. Bravo’s well-established cruelty to Florence won her public sympathy, while at the same time her affair with prominent doctor James Gully earned her scorn and ridicule. Ruddick goes over the original police documents with a fine-toothed comb and speaks to the descendants of nearly all the original participants. He reconstructs the story from the inquest testimony and letters between the central players, uncovering new information that points to a solution. Along the way, he exposes a lurid and fascinating side of Victorian life, including sex and violence within and without marriage, friendship and loyalty, and women’s struggles to achieve autonomy and happiness. The story is as full of dastardly villains and ladies in distress as any bodice-ripper, but it also maintains a scholarly meticulousness. Ruddick thoroughly and fairly examines each of the theories proposed to solve the case, then and now. He is in complete command of his material; masterful detective work and storytelling keep the suspense high through the final pages. Moreover, his solution is satisfying and well supported by the evidence—though not, perhaps, airtight.

A wonderfully dramatic tale, vividly told. (8 pages photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-87113-832-8
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2001


NonfictionTHE POISONER by Stephen Bates
by Stephen Bates