Email this review


Riveting tree-crime drama, meticulously uncovering the facts--and their social significance--in a notorious mid-19th-century Scottish murder case. Morland, now deceased, was not only the author of scores of British novels, but published a number of books and essays on forensic science. Here, he turns his talents to cracking the murder of Emile L'Angelier, a penniless ""prig, amateur Don Juan, and snobbish liar"" who died in 1857 of arsenic poisoning. L'Angelier's lover, the wealthy, young Madelaine Smith, was tried and acquitted of the deed. While sifting through the evidence, Morland manages to turn this crime into a compelling study of the mores of Victorian England--a land where women remained virgin until marriage, fathers ruled with an iron hand, and young girls slaved for 130 hours a week in unregulated sweatshops. Morland finds Madelaine guilty of murder in order to protect her reputation (""Emile had to go and go he did. . .Safety is the most powerful need of all""); more interestingly, he manages to indict an entire society for its ugly excesses, all while spinning out a delightful, dreadful tale of moonlit assignations and feverish jealousies. Some might be put off by Morland's old-fashioned, sometimes overblown manner (of the lovers' first meetings: ""human nature demands a fanfare, a comet in the sky, when an eternal story is born""), but his leisurely approach, a cross between Dickens and Henry James, has charm to spare. (Curious footnote: Madelaine Smith, 22 when she reportedly poisoned her love, lived to be 93, dying in New York State in the era of airplanes and automobiles. As such, she saw Victorian morals go the way of the chimney sweep--apparently with little regret.)

Pub Date: Sept. 14th, 1989
Publisher: St. Martin's