Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pg. 69: Martin Edwards' "Dancing for the Hangman"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Dancing for the Hangman by Martin Edwards.

About the book, from J. Kingston Pierce's account at January Magazine:
Most students of criminal history know the fundamentals of the Hawley Harvey Crippen murder case. In 1910, that reportedly mild-mannered, Michigan-born homeopathic practitioner is said to have slain and then buried the partial remains of his domineering and unfaithful spouse, music hall singer Cora Crippen (aka “Belle Elmore”), beneath the brickwork floor of their London basement. Afterward, Crippen and his much younger employee and lover, Ethel Le Neve -- the two disguised as father and son -- fled Great Britain aboard the SS Montrose, bound for Canada, where they dreamed of beginning a new life together. However, their plans were foiled in dramatic fashion by Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Walter Dew. After being tipped to their escape via wireless telegram (a technological turning point well recounted by Erik Larson in Thunderstruck), Dew set off in pursuit on a faster ship, and was waiting for the Montrose when it finally entered Canada’s St. Lawrence River. He quickly took Crippen into custody and returned him to England, where the culprit was found guilty of homicide and hanged. That’s the framework of this tale, but around it Martin Edwards packs considerable substance -- emotional, entertaining and intriguing -- as he seeks to make sense of what led Crippen to poison Cora and then try to conceal her dismembered corpse. Retelling the story from Crippen’s point of view, Edwards casts his protagonist as a man too na├»ve and stoic for his own good, falling for a woman who manipulated him without compunction, abused him verbally and then cheated on him with younger admirers. Crippen trusted in people when he should not have, stayed in a marriage he ought to have abandoned long before violence resulted (if only the prejudice against divorce had not been so intense in his era) and may have put more faith in his legal defenders than they deserved. Edwards sees Crippen as a romantic, hungry for happiness, even if it only lasted briefly. Other fictionists have tackled the Crippen case, but none so successfully as Edwards does in Dancing for the Hangman.
Learn more about the book and author at Martin Edwards’ website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Dancing for the Hangman.

--Marshal Zeringue