About the Book
Unassuming Yorkshireman, Arthur Skelton, is one of the most celebrated and recognisable barristers in the land. His success in the high-profile Dryden case – ‘the scandal of 1929’ – catapulted him to the front pages of the national newspapers. His services are now much in demand and, after careful consideration, he agrees to defend Mary Dutton. Dubbed ‘The Collingford Poisoner’ by the press, Mary is accused of poisoning her husband after years of abuse. Together with his trusted assistant, Skelton digs deeper and discovers that secrets and lies run deep in the Dutton family and all is not as it appears.
Format: Hardcover (352 pages) Publisher: Allison & Busby
Publication date: 17th September 2020 Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime
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Fresh from his recent courtroom success, barrister Arthur Skelton is having to get used to being in the limelight and the adoration of those who regard him as a ‘Latter Day Galahad’, riding to the rescue of damsels in distress. The next damsel in need of rescue is Mary Dutton, accused of the murder of her violent husband in a seemingly open and shut case.
Arthur sets out to construct a plausible defence for Mary, ideally by identifying others with the means, motive and opportunity to murder the victim. He’s assisted in this by his extremely efficient clerk, Edgar, who is both a fountain of knowledge and, seemingly, has connections in every solicitor’s office in the country. Later they are joined by Rose Critchlow, daughter of the solicitor representing Mary Dutton. Rose has ambitions to pursue a career in law despite it being a largely male preserve so is delighted to get involved. Drawing inspiration from the words of the Girl Guide’s Handbook, she can “think of nothing better than to be an everyday heroine whose example might be followed with advantage.” As it turns out, Rose is an extremely adept and industrious investigator, uncovering vital evidence that would otherwise have remained hidden.
I enjoyed the brief insights into Arthur’s other cases and also the glimpses of his home life with wife, Mila, and their two children. Mila is quite a character – clever, independent-minded, an advocate of equal rights and not afraid to voice her opinions. Often, Arthur finds himself marveling that she should have chosen him over so many others.
The unravelling of the intriguing mystery takes place to the accompaniment of gentle humour. For example, when Arthur and Edgar attend a meeting in a rather seedy pub in Limehouse, Arthur observes, “It was old. Dickens could have drunk here, maybe Shakespeare and Marlowe, and possibly Chaucer, but none of them would have, because they were all too choosy.” Or, as Arthur and his clerk run through Edgar’s list (numbered, of course) of other possible suspects and motives, Edgar observes, “Sapphism is a lot more common than you like to believe.” “Not in the Midlands“, replies Arthur.
There are occasional contributions (in letter form) from Arthur’s cousin, Alan, who, with his wife Norah, travels the country in a Rover Sunbeam spreading the word of God, whilst also acting as a useful gatherer of information for Arthur’s cases. There’s more gentle humour on display here. I chuckled at the descriptions of their meetings which comprise earnest sermons, the enthusiastic singing of hymns and recitals of popular songs such as ‘When Father Papered the Parlour You Couldn’t See Pa for Paste’.
I really enjoyed Skelton’s Guide to Domestic Poisons. It’s an entertaining historical mystery with a nice line in humour. I very much hope there are more cases for Skelton and his colleagues to tackle in the future.
I received an advance review copy courtesy of Allison & Busby via NetGalley.
In three words: Funny, lively, engaging
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About the Author
David Stafford began his career in theatre. He’s written countless dramas, comedies and documentaries including two TV films with Alexei Sayle, Dread Poets Society with Benjamin Zephaniah, and, with his wife, Caroline, a string of radio plays and comedies including The Brothers, The Day The Planes Came and The Year They Invented Sex as well as five biographies of musicians and showbiz personalities. Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be – The Life of Lionel Bart was chosen as Radio 4 Book of the Week and made into a BBC Four TV documentary. Skelton’s Guide to Domestic Poisons is his debut novel. (Photo credit: Publisher author page)
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