Monday, 10 December 2012

The word from the Literary Review: 'A splendid piece of historical detective work'

In the current (Dec-Jan) issue of the Literary Review (yes, they of the famous 'bad-sex in fiction' awards) historian Dominic Sandbrook (whom you might know from his recent book and BBC series on the 1970s) says some very nice things about The Most Remarkable Woman in England.

Unfortunately, the review isn’t among those available online; however, here are a few short excerpts.

Today, of course, Beatrice Pace is almost completely forgotten. It is to John Carter Wood’s credit, therefore, that in this splendid piece of historical detective work he not only brings her story alive but casts new light on the life of England in the 1920s, a land desperate to return to normality after the First World War, but terrified of the demons lurking in the attic. This was a society drenched in celebrity and obsessed by murder, especially within families.
Like Kate Summerscale’s prizewinning book The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Wood’s account is an engrossing exercise in historical reconstruction, slowly peeling back layer upon layer of the story of Harry and Beatrice Pace. Cleverly, he does not give us too much information at the start. Like the readers of a detective novel—and like the readers of the newspapers that reported the Pace case with such breathless excitement—we are made to wait for new disclosures that cast an entirely new light on Harry’s death. But this is far more than a true-crime thriller.

Wood’s achievement is to use the case to explore the troubled world of the mid-1920s, a period when, as the Daily Herald remarked, ‘nine people out of ten follow the meagre official details and the billowing rumours of an actual murder mystery more eagerly and breathlessly than the most devoted detective “fan.”’ In particular, Wood shows how Fleet Street seized upon the case as a commentary on the shifting gender roles of an age when flappers and suffragettes were challenging assumptions about feminine passivity.
Wood thinks the jury came to the right verdict, though it is a measure of his immaculately researched, fluently written and utterly compelling book that he allows readers to come to their own conclusions. For my own part, I rather think there was more to Beatrice Pace than met the eye. Who really killed Harry Pace? You had better read the book and decide for yourself. 

That last bit sounds right to me.

And, you know, I believe Christmas is coming.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant, John - I shall be reading my copy over Christmas!