21 Sep 2018

Review - Blackmail, Sex and Lies by Kathryn McMaster

Title: Blackmail, Sex and Lies

Author: Kathryn McMaster


For 160 years, people have believed Madeleine Smith to have been guilty of murder. But was she? Could she have been innocent after all?

This Victorian murder mystery, based on a true story, takes place in Glasgow, Scotland, 1857. It explores the disastrous romance between the vivacious socialite, Madeleine Hamilton Smith, and her working class lover, Pierre Emile L’Angelier. 

After a two-year torrid, and forbidden relationship with L’Angelier, that takes place against her parents' wishes, the situation changes dramatically when William Minnoch enters the scene. This new man in Madeleine’s life is handsome, rich, and of her social class. He is also a man of whom her family approve.

Sadly, insane jealous rages and threats of blackmail are suddenly silenced by an untimely death. 

My Thoughts:

Blackmail, Sex and Lies is a Victorian true crime story. In the 1850s Madeleine Smith, upper-middle class resident of Glasgow was accused of poisoning her lover Emile L'Angelier to get rid of him so she can marry someone more suitable richer of her class. Emile was a working class man and the fact that a young lady of a higher class conducted a secret love affair with someone below her status made for a great scandal.

To be honest, the root of the story fascinated me the most, namely the poisoning. I only ever read about arsenic poisoning before, in We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson and I remember a line from that book stating that arsenic poisoning is a very painful way to die. Well, here in Blackmail, Sex and Lies it is described in a detailed manner why it is so.

Victorians were crazy people. They took arsenic to feel more lively, more energetic. They took it to have a more pleasing complexion as well. They knew it was poision, still they used it and reommended it to each other. Both Emile and Madeleine had arsenic in their possession for one reason or other, that's why it was possible either Madeline to poision Emile, or Emile to commit suicide/overdose.

I will state here that I absolutely hated the two main characters. Emile was a world class j*** and Madeline so naive it hurt to read. Their love letters of which the book includes quite a few are syrupy and repetitive.

BUT each time I got to the parts where speculations were made or the two sides' actions were described, I found myself interested again. The writing style fit the era, the wording and the spinning of the tale kept me involved. 

My opinion is kinda mixed about this book as you can see, but still I'm glad I learned more about this case.

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