Highgate Cemetery December 1907
In the chill confines of a Victorian family tomb, a group of men crane their necks to peer inside a rank smelling coffin...
What it's lead-lined interior revealed would solve a riddle that had gripped the British public for a decade, calling into question the very identity of one of the most respected peers of the realm.
In 1897, a widow named Anna Maria Druce had applied for the exhumation of the grave of her late father-in-law, Thomas Charles Druce. Behind her application lay a sensational claim that Druce, a furniture dealer, had been the alter-ego of the eccentric 5th Duke of Portland; and that the Duke had, in 1864, faked the death of his middle-class doppelgänger. When opened, Mrs Druce contended, her father-in-laws coffin would be found to be empty. And her fortunate children would be heirs to the Portland millions.
The 'Druce-Portland case' proved to be one of the most drawn out and tangled legal sagas of the era. And its eventual outcome- reached only after multiple court hearings and a cats cradle of police and private investigations- revealed a dark underbelly of lies and secrets beneath the gentle facade of late Victorian England.
Publisher: Head of Zeus
I haven't read any non-fiction for ages so this book made a refreshing change and I found it fascinating. It is very much a historical mystery and I don't want to give the game away so I won't include too many spoilers in this review.
Piu Marie Eatwell's account of the Portland-Druce case is brilliant, at points you cannot believe that it actually happened. Some of the events that take place are truly shocking and I liked how the author put everything in context of the time period. She explains how the legal system worked at the time, monetary values, commonly held beliefs and so much more. All of this gives you a greater understanding of the case but it also gives you a great insight into Victorian England.
So many notable people pop up in this book which made it even more interesting. I loved the anecdotes about Charles Dickens in particular.
This book had me gripped throughout, although non-fiction, Piu Marie Eatwell maintains a fast pace, the chapters do not become bogged down in irrelevant detail but instead keep you wanting to read more.
If you like a good mystery then I highly recommend this brilliantly researched book. Eatwell brings the facts to life and the mystery of the dead Duke is not one to miss.