This book was like catnip to me.
I have been having trouble the past few weeks sinking into books, which is why there has been an uptick in novella reviews from me. I have no less than three books currently sitting open at home, plus an audio book underway, but this Saturday I wanted to read none of them. It was time for a trip to the non-fiction aisle, and thankfully I had ordered The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse from the library based on yesknopemaybe’s review.
I was always going to like this book. I love cases of mistaken identity. I am intrigued by the very real epidemic of people living double and sometimes triple lives in the Victorian era, and I love a bit of Edwardian gossip (yes, I also watch and enjoy the soap opera that is Downton Abbey). This book contains it all. I’ll let Goodreads do the heavy lifting for the synopsis:
The extraordinary story of the Druce-Portland affair, one of the most notorious, tangled and bizarre legal cases of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. In 1897 an elderly widow, Anna Maria Druce, made a strange request of the London Ecclesiastical Court: it was for the exhumation of the grave of her late father-in-law, T.C. Druce. Behind her application lay a sensational claim: that Druce had been none other than the eccentric and massively wealthy 5th Duke of Portland, and that the – now dead – Duke had faked the death of his alter ego. When opened, Anna Maria contended, Druce’s coffin would be found to be empty. And her children, therefore, were heirs to the Portland millions. The extraordinary legal case that followed would last for ten years. Its eventual outcome revealed a dark underbelly of lies lurking beneath the genteel facade of late Victorian England”
And that’s really only the first third of the book.
Eatwell is a documentarian for the BBC by trade, and the pacing and depth of research shows it. This is definitely a work where the author is intentionally leaving you on the precipice of knowledge, nearly every chapter ending in a cliffhanger that had me continuing to push on even when other things should have been accomplished that day. I think part of my five-star rating is that I was able to read this in a day and that suited the pace of the three hundred pages. Spreading this book out over several days or weeks might have lessened my enjoyment.
This book was originally published in the UK in 2014, but in its 2015 re-release has an additional chapter from Eatwell as she describes what more came to light following her initial research and publication. I found her authorial voice engaging and the story captivating.
This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.