For anyone interested in the history of crime and punishment, the Notable British Trials series has long been a rich source of reliable information. The original series, published by William Hodge and Company, became extremely well-known, and its recent revival by Mango Books is welcome. The second of the "Mango" titles has now been published; it is the Trial of Louise Masset, edited by Kate Clarke.
I must admit that I knew next to nothing about this case, sometimes known as "the Dalston mystery", before picking up this book. It deals with that most horrible of crimes, the murder of a very young and defenceless child. The body was soon identified as three-year old Manfred Masset. His mother Louise was the prime suspect right from the outset.
Louise was a governess in her mid-thirties. Manfred was illegitimate, and in the late 1890s, that was of course a source of social stigma. The position of an unmarried mother was extremely difficult and stressful. Louise vehemently denied killing her own child. On her account she'd already arrived in Brighton, where she was planning to spend the week-end with her new lover, Eudore Lewis (Eudore is a new name to me, I must admit.) The couple registered in the hotel under false names, claiming to be brother and sister.
Louise's denials didn't persuade the police. Eventually, they failed to persuade the jury. She was sentenced to death, and became the first person to be executed in Britain in the 20th century, a miserable distinction. But as Kate Clarke explains, the case was less straightforward than it might seem. There are some remarkable ingredients, not least the involvement of Arthur Newton, the dodgiest solicitor of his era, who would later act for Dr Crippen. Train times come into the story, rather as in a mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts. All in all, a welcome addition to an excellent series.