It took three tortured days in 1876 for Charles Bravo to die. Six doctors, including Queen Victoria’s physician, had attempted to save him from the poison that burned its way through his body. The subsequent police investigation revealed a surprising number of people who harboured a grudge against the young barrister - just six months married - and who had both the means and motive to kill him. The dramatic inquest that followed was covered in sensational detail by the press. Yet, in the end, no-one was ever convicted of Charles Bravo’s murder.
James Ruddick arrived at the scene of the crime over a century later to find the mystery still unexplained. Drawing on new evidence, his brilliant conclusion finally and emphatically solves one of the most famous murders in British criminal history.
Author: James Ruddick is a journalist and television researcher. He is the author of several books including “Lord Lucan: What Really Happened”. “Death at the Priory” was nominated for a Non-Fiction Edgar Award in the US.
My thoughts: I read this non-fiction book in May 2012 and in November 2014 and again last December. I loved this book very much because I have always been attracted to the Victorian era. This is not just a thrilling investigation story, we also learn a great deal about how life was for men and women in Victorian Britain. This is the story of their private lives and the traditions in British society. The book reads like a dramatic love affair intermingled with detective work. I really liked the meticulous research.
It is the true story of Florence Campbell, a wealthy young woman unhappy in love. She was married twice to men who did not suit her. After becoming the young widow of the handsome, alcoholic and much courted Captain Alexander Ricardo, she embarked upon a long love affair with Dr James Gully. Florence met the brilliant and eminent Dr James Gully, 30 years her senior, at Hydro, a high-class sanatorium in Malvern, the Worcestershire spa town on the Welsh borders. She went there for a while - alone - to figure out what to do with her unhappy and abusive marriage to Alexander Ricardo. This “cure” was a typical Victorian compromise to find a solution to marital issues. Her unhappy marriage to Alexandre Ricardo had come to an end and she desperately wanted to file for divorce, an unpopular procedure in Victorian society.
Dr Gully brought her the love, tenderness and support she so badly needed. But their love affair became known and both were rejected by the prudish society of the time. To be accepted again in high society and to regain a social life, she sought a husband and met a young barrister, Charles Bravo, whom she married. Her new husband was a brutal, cold, calculating and opportunistic man. Sadly, the marriage was a very unhappy one right from the start. Six months after their marriage, Charles died in atrocious suffering due to poisoning.
Two senior detectives from Scotland Yard were assigned to investigate Charles Bravo’s homicide. They narrowed their inquiries to a handful of suspects all of whom had the opportunity to administer the poison. There was Charles’s Bravo wife, the beautiful and wealthy Florence. There was the couple’s housekeeper, and Florence’s long-time companion, Mrs Jane Cox, who had faced dismissal at Bravo’s hands. There was also Dr James Gully, Florence’s lover and one of the most prominent physicians of the period. He bore a grudge against Bravo for stealing his mistress. Or perhaps the other servants?
After five weeks of inquiry, the jury announced that there was insufficient evidence to name Bravo’s murderer and all the suspects were duly acquitted.
Thanks to the investigation of the author James Ruddick, one can see more clearly. But do not count on me to give you the outcome, otherwise it will spoil the pleasure of discovering the story...and, believe me, this easily approachable book is well worth reading.