Saturday, 29 December 2012

Today in the Pace case: 29 December 1927

Thursday, 29 December 1927: Fred Thorne, a friend of Harry's visits Rose Cottage, finding Harry to be ‘very much altered and very ill’.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Today in the Pace case: 27 December 1927

Tuesday, 27 December 1927: Dr. William Du Pré, prevented by snow the previous day, finally attends to Harry, finding him suffering from severe abdominal pain and vomiting. He diagnoses gastric influenza.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Today in the Pace case: 26 December 1927

Monday, 26 December 1927: After Harry's turn for the worse on Christmas Day, on Boxing Day, Beatrice walks miles through deep snow to see the family doctor, William Du Pré. She tells him about Harry’s outburst the previous day and says he is suffering from stomach pains, ‘feverish headache’ and shivering. The deep snow, however, prevents Du Pré from attending Harry.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

'A fascinating snapshot of interwar England'

I am very pleased to see that The Most Remarkable Woman in England has been named by crime novelist Nicola Upson as her 'favourite read of 2012' at the Faber website.

She has some very kind words for my book:

Just for once, my crime book of the year isn’t a novel, but a factual account. In 1928, a quarryman called Harry Pace died of arsenic poisoning and his wife, Beatrice, was tried for his murder. John Carter Wood’s account of the case and trial has it all: suspense; surprise; and a searing account of one woman’s life, marriage, and journey from poverty and obscurity to celebrity and notoriety. Wood is brave enough to allow much of an incredible story to tell itself through newspaper accounts, letters and Beatrice’s private papers, and the book is all the richer for it. And because it’s a true story, he has no choice but to include some of the more incredible plot elements that a novelist might lose courage with! A fascinating snapshot of interwar England, brilliantly brought to life.

Many thanks to Nicola Upson for her enthusiasm!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Christmas at Rose Cottage

While something like this belongs on the Pace case 'timeline' series that I've been maintaining (and which will shortly be revived for another year of marking key events in the case), I presume that most of you will be doing other things on Christmas Day than reading this blog. (I know that I will be...)

So, I thought I would offer the following brief excerpt from the book, which has a definite Christmas connection, even if it's far from being filled with Christmas cheer.

To briefly set the scene: in December 1928, Harry Pace was ill at home, having returned from the Gloucester Royal Infirmary in late October. His condition appears to have been somewhat improving after his return.


On Christmas morning, [Harry's eldest daughter] Dorothy had, as usual, gone to light the fire in her father’s room. He told her not to bother as he would be coming downstairs. Putting the firewood into the grate, she noticed a bottle and placed it on a chest of drawers. Beatrice went upstairs to ask Harry about it, and Dorothy heard him reply, ‘I don’t know nothing.’

With [younger daughter] Doris’s assistance, Harry came downstairs for the first time since returning home. Rather than a joyful occasion, however, a terrifying scene unfolded. As Dorothy explained, her father, ‘in one of his tempers’, grabbed the tongs from the kitchen fireplace and attacked Beatrice. Dorothy intervened, and Harry, thwarted, bashed in the fireguard before sitting down.

After a pause, he took a straight razor from the cupboard and told his family to ‘clear out’ or else he would kill them. The two boys fled, and Beatrice sent Doris to fetch Joseph Martin, a neighbour who lived a couple hundred yards away.  Harry had ‘cooled down’ by the time Martin arrived, and he then returned to his room.  He would never again leave it alive.

Harry cried bitterly that afternoon and begged for his wife’s forgiveness. His condition, meanwhile, worsened, and on Boxing Day, Beatrice walked miles through deep snow to [family doctor William] Du Pré. She explained Harry’s outburst and said he was suffering from stomach pains, ‘feverish headache’ and shivering. The snow prevented Du Pré from attending until the next day, when he found Harry suffering from severe abdominal pain and vomiting.

He diagnosed gastric influenza. 

Du Pre's diagnosis, as described in the book, would not hold up for very long.

In that spirit: Wishing you all a happy (and, above all, peaceful and healthy) Christmas!

(Passage taken from The Most Remarkable Woman in England:Poison, Celebrity and the Trials of Beatrice Pace, pp. 15-16.) 

Noted: Review of recent police-history books

For those of you interested in the history of the British police -- an issue to which the Pace case is, of course, closely related -- there is a good review of four recent books on that topic at a German history site (the review, however, is in English). 

One of them is Joanne Klein's Invisible Men, which I also reviewed (as noted on this blog).

Another is Haia Shpayer-Makov's Ascent of the Detective, which I will soon be reviewing for Reviews in History.

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.