Sunday, June 5, 2016

by Paul Thomas Murphy

For those of you who are obsessed with watching Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs and you truly believe the portrayals of happy, large amounts of servants, this was not the norm in 1871. In Victorian England, in order to be considered respectable (middle-class), the family had to hire at least one servant. Two-thirds of young girls (twelve or thirteen) were maids-of-all-work. Their duties were endless: cook, kitchen maid, housemaid, valet, footman, making beds, washing dishes, childcare, cleaning boots, sweeping, dusting, etc. You get the picture. It was pretty much a miserable existence. With long days of constantly cleaning (fifteen to eighteen hours) and not much time off, maids-of-all-work had a lonely, solitary life. Jane Clouson was one of these unfortunates. She began working soon after turning twelve and would eventually end up being employed by the Pook family. Jane lasted there not quite two years before she left on her own saying that she no longer wanted to be a servant. The truth was that she was in love with Edmund Pook, the son of her master and they were planning to get married. Too bad that Jane was so naive. Edmund was a womanizer and particularly liked to prey upon female servants. He, of course, had no intention of marrying her. She meant nothing to him. He knew that he had to get rid of her. Edmund contacted Jane and arranged for them to meet on an isolated road where nobody goes. The following day, while walking his beat, police constable David Gunn finds her barely alive.
Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane is a very persuasive story that keeps you glued to the page. It is very interesting to read about the legal system in Britain during the nineteenth century; the beginnings of forensic science; the police investigation; and life in England within the 1870s. Author Paul Thomas Murphy used primary sources to recreate a tale of a murder (it remained unsolved for one hundred and fifty years). Murphy has degrees in Victorian studies and it shows. He really knows how to write and draw you in.
If you like Victorian drama, especially a murder mystery that is true, you won't be disappointed.
Highly recommended.