Did She Kill Him?: A Torrid True Story of Adultery, Arsenic, and Murder in Victorian England

In 1889, 27-year-old Florence Maybrick was tried in a Liverpool court for the murder of her husband, James. The press and public were enthralled by the so-called "Maybrick Mystery," which had all the elements of a scandalous sensation: a young American heiress, a wealthy cotton merchant, arsenic poisoning and intimations of the pretty young Mrs. Maybrick's infidelity.

Florence married James when she was 17 and he was 41. While the match made both families happy, the relationship soon soured. In debt from James's business failures, plagued by his refusal to set aside his mistress and surrounded by gossiping servants whom she could not control, Florence had taken to lamenting her situation in lengthy letters to her mother and to a business acquaintance of her husband: a handsome young bachelor named Alfred Brierley. She had also begun soaking arsenic-infused flypapers in a basin in her boudoir, ostensibly to make a face wash. Meanwhile, James, a noted hypochondriac, had added several new physicians to his regular rotation, each of whom diagnosed him with a different disease and prescribed different medications--including concoctions whose ingredients might combine in dangerous ways.

With meticulous research and eye for detail, Kate Colquhoun (Murder in the First-Class Carriage) spins out this mystery bit by bit, hinting at each potential explanation with equal sympathy and equanimity. The result is a delightfully suspenseful true-crime story that maintains its momentum beyond the trial verdict, leaving readers with a thorough grasp of the facts but, deliciously, no definitive answer to the title's posed question. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Book Cricket

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