Lisa Appignanesi - Trials of Passion (2 stars)

A recounting of three historical murders that fails to rise above 'true crime' sensationalism

Lisa Appignanesi - Trials of Passion

In Brighton, 1870, Christiana Edmunds distributes poisoned chocolates to cover up her desperate attempt to kill the wife of a doctor she was obsessed with. In Paris, ten years later, heart-broken Marie Biere shoots the lover who abandoned her, whom she blames for her baby’s death. Then in New York in 1906, a strange, indulged millionaire kills the man that he believes once ‘corrupted’ his young wife. What do these three interesting historical cases have in common?

Well, er, they were all quite sensational in their day and, um, they all involved love, whether unrequited, betrayed or distorted. Each produced much debate over whether the culprits – each caught bang to rights – were mad or bad, with psychological experts of the day weighing in, depending on the time and place’s understanding of such matters.

But, despite her efforts to draw general conclusions from these cases, Appignanesi’s disappointing book never convinces that they tell a coherent narrative of how society progressed in dealing with claims of temporary insanity. Amid woolly digressions, the three long accounts have only a sort of gossipy, ‘true crime’ appeal.

Published by Virago on Thu 3 Apr.

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