Once again, my pick for Patti Abbott’s series of Forgotten Books is a title by the late, great Julian Symons. The Blackheath Poisonings is one of his ventures into Victorian crime – Sweet Adelaide, based on the real-life Adelaide Bartlett case, is another – and it carries a particular memory for me.
During the 1990s, Nottingham was the place for crime fans to visit, during the annual Shots on the Page convention. The convention was, so far as I know, the brainchild of Maxim Jakubowski, who worked closely with film specialist Adrian Wootton. I missed the first of the conventions, but attended all the others and found them most enjoyable. They paved the way for Nottingham to host Bouchercon itself – quite a coup for Maxim and his colleagues, and the last time that Bouchercon crossed the Atlantic.
One year, the convention hosted an advance screening of an adaptation for TV of The Blackheath Poisoinings. The small screen version was excellent, benefiting from a first rate cast that included Zoe Wanamaker, Judy Parfitt and Ronald Fraser, as well as a screenplay that was sympathetic to Symons’ original story.
And a very good story it is, with a sharp eye on the sexual complexities lying just beneath the surface of late Victorian society. A respectable family is torn apart by poison, and poisonous suspicion. One of the characters is tried for murder, but before the story is concluded, there will be another death, and the revelation of an unsuspected criminal.
Julian Symons inscribed my copy of this novel (which is a hardback reprint, published not long before his death from cancer)when we were together at a CWA conference in Brighton. Characteristically, he added a question: ‘A good Victorian crime story?’ The answer is an unequivocal yes.
(P.S. - For unfathomable reasons, at present, I am able to send but not receive emails, so if you've emailed me in the past three days, please don't think the absence of a reply means I'm ignoring you....)