Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Fatal Affairs by Kate Clarke

Fatal Affairs, written by true crime expert Kate Clarke, and recently published by Carrington Press, is in effect a companion volume to her earlier, enjoyable book Lethal Alliance,and demonstrates the same depth of research. Fashions ebb and flow in true crime, just as they do in crime fiction, and collections of essays are not as common as they were some years ago, when writers like Jonathan Goodman and the admirable and under-estimated Douglas Wynn produced some excellent examples. But it's often a very good way of showcasing material about real life crime.

This book focuses on 18th century crimes. It contains three essays, of which by far the longest concerns the most famous case, that of Mary Blandy, whose emotional attachment to Captain William Henry Cranstoun led her to poison her father, a crime for which she was hanged. Cranstoun fled to France, but he did not exactly "get away with it" as he died "in agony" not long afterwards. It's a good story, well told here.

The other two essays deal with cases that previously I wasn't familiar with at all. One concern Elizabeth Jeffries, who was linked with Mary Blandy in the sense that the pair corresponded whilst they were both in prison. The Jefrries case is an extraordinary (or perhaps all too ordinary?) example of sex abuse in the family long before the subject became a common element in crime ficton and discussions about real life cases. She was groomed and abused by her uncle, whom she murdered after falling for a young man called John Swan.

Katharine Nairn married young, and promptly fell for her hsuband's brother, Lieutenant Patrick Ogilvie. It goes without saying that this proved a disastrous mistake - especially for Patrick. The author describes the case as "extraordinary", and rightly so. This extensively researched and copiously illustrated book offers insight into a time very differenr from our own, and into relationships that were doom-laden in more ways than one. 

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