Monday 27 January 2014

Lethal Alliance by Kate Clarke - review

At around the turn of the year, I was delighted to receive a copy of Kate Clarke's latest true crime book, Lethal Alliance. Like many a good book these days, it's published by a small press, Carrington Press. There isn't a biographical note, but Kate Clarke is a very experienced true crime specialist, and once co-wrote a book that was short-listed for the CWA's Gold Dagger for non-fiction.

Her subject is two distinct "lethal alliances", though as she emphasises in her introduction, the cases discussed bear no resemblance to modern cases such as Brady and Hindley, and Fred and Rose West. Here we are dealing with two nineteenth century cases. The first, set in Brighton, involved the fatal attraction that a doctor named Beard had for au attractive unmarried woman called Christana Edmunds. The second, set in London, concerned Sarah Gale's attachment to James Greenacre.

I was already familiar with, and very interested by, the Edmunds case. This is because it is referenced by two of the greatest Golden Age writers, Anthony Berkeley and John Dickson Carr. Berkeley's The Poisoned Chocolates Case draws on some material from the Edmunds story, while Carr's The Black Spectacles takes a case similar to that of Edmunds as the starting point for an unusual and intriguing mystery.

Lethal Alliance told me plenty that I didn't know previously about the Edmunds case. Her weird campaign of poisoning resulted in a trial where she was found (controversially, as Kate Clarke explains) to be insane. She spent the rest of her life in Broadmoor. It's a sad tale of delusion. The Gale-Greenacre case, dating from the 1830s, is an extraordinary reminder that there is nothing new about the dismemberment of luckless murder victims. Overall, if you are interested in real life cases with a historical dimension, I think you will find much of interest in  Lethal Alliance

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