Many years ago I watched a TV mini-series on the life and crimes of William Palmer, the Rugeley Poisoner which was entertaining and cast the said Palmer as a calculating and evil murderer. It was with interest then that I read this new account of his life and crimes which were at the time one of the biggest sensations in Victorian England.
The picture that emerges from this account is unsurprisingly a little different but certainly convincing. In this is a tale of gambling, loan sharks, insurance scams and lies which Stephen Bates shows was very much a part of the Victorian racing circle. Palmer the man becomes a far more recognisable as does the press and locals in their reaction to his arrest and trial. His research which seems to have been thorough includes several previously unpublished letters as well as considering the prevailing fears of the time such as the fear of poisons and poisoning, all of which made this case the sensation it became.
Bates has written a well-balanced and fascinating account while still capturing that sense of Victorian melodrama that clearly attached itself to the Rugeley Doctor, who became known as The Prince of Poisoners.