An exhaustive look into the passionate love affair that led to one of the most infamous murders in 1920s England.
Moving beyond the standard courtroom drama, Somerset Maugham Award winner Thompson (Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life, 2018, etc.) painstakingly details the life and death of Edith Thompson, an Essex woman who gained notoriety in 1922 as she and her lover stood trial for the murder of her husband. The secret romance between Edith and Freddy Bywaters captivated and shocked a nation, as her love letters were introduced as evidence during their trial. For more than a year, Edith had cherished what few precious moments she could spend alone with her younger lover. The bulk of the narrative focuses on these brief trysts as described in Edith’s writing, although the chronology of events becomes a bit knotted as the story reaches its tragic end. There was little doubt of Bywaters' guilt when he was accused of fatally stabbing Edith's husband, but as the intimate details of her affair became public, her role in the death of her husband was called into question. Although never intended for an audience, Edith’s love letters, which “were perceived to redefine the concept of shamelessness,” earned her lasting notoriety while also sealing her fate. Female sexuality, adultery, abortion: Edith wrote honestly about the issues affecting her and many other women but were deemed too taboo to discuss openly. As elaborately chronicled by the author, who displays a profound sympathy for her subject, Edith's own words were enough to condemn her in the court of public opinion well before she was sentenced to death in a court of law.
This meticulously researched account of a fatal love affair carefully questions the nature of guilt and capital punishment in polite society, offering up a more profound lesson than is likely to be found in a typical true crime novel.