1876. When the newlywed barrister Charles Bravo ingests a rare poison, all evidence suggests suicide.
But in one of the most infamous inquests of all time, a coroner finds it to be an unlawful murder. So, we must ask, what is the truth?
The fourth book in Antony M. Brown’s popular Cold Case Jury series picks apart this notorious case that gripped Victorian Britain – and continues to spark debate to this day. Why did Bravo refuse any help, even when going through agonising pain? Was his wife, with her scandalous past, to blame? Or perhaps it was her former lover, eager to remove his usurper for good… or another sinister hand, moving silently?
In Poisoned at the Priory, Brown compiles the evidence and creates dramatic reconstructions of four main theories of how Charles Bravo may have died – including Agatha Christie’s solution, in her own words, for the very first time.
But was Christie correct? What’s your verdict in this spellbinding case?
If you love murder mysteries, especially if you’re a fan of Agatha Christie type of novels, then this is a must read. This is a true crime novel and not a fictional tale so not knowing what the truth is in the end is both a blessing and a curse because you’ll never know if you were right. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying this novel because I loved the role I was given as member of the Cold Case Jury, trying to make up my own mind about what happened to Charles Bravo. It might sound easy but it was anything but!
This novel is quite extensive, it first took me back in time to the events leading up to the fatal events and then plays out in great detail a few possible scenarios as to what might have happened. Bravo was married to Florence Ricardo née Campbell and only four months after their marriage he became ill and died a few days later of poisoning. Five doctors stood at his deathbed, called upon by his wife Florence, but he couldn’t be saved.
There are a lot of questions surrounding his death that kept my grey cells working overtime. The first question up for debate was how the poison was administered. Was it in the red wine at dinner, or in the water in his room? You would think that this would be easily determined but those were other times and it’s clear that they gave the patient all of their attention at the time but nobody was thinking of looking for evidence or getting to the bottom of it at the most crucial time so we’re looking at opportunity here most of all.
Even though you can’t even even be absolutely sure about this truth, I found this at least the easiest one to come to a conclusion. The hard work was yet to begin: did Bravo poison himself intentionally, or perhaps accidentally? There were statements made that support this if you believe the source. But there are also a number of murder theories to excite the reader involving Florence’s housemaid Jane Cox, Florence’s ex-lover Doctor Gully and Bravo’s wife Florence herself. Whose word to believe and who lied? I couldn’t make up my mind and needed someone else’s opinion.
And opinions I certainly received, none other than Agatha Christie herself offered her opinion on this mystery. Other doctors of that time expressed their opinions as well, and other authors who wrote about this case in the following years, as well as the author of the novel himself of course. There seem to be as many different opinions as people were asked. I loved reading what everyone’s thoughts were!
I know you want to ask me what I think and I’m actually torn between two very different scenarios. Bravo’s behaviour was not entirely consistent, so I’m keeping Julian Fellow’s opinion also in mind. He actually turned this historical unsolved case into one of five episodes of a televised crime docudrama series in 2004. My main concern about my initial thought is that it was established he was poisened when he was still alive. If you don’t know who poisened you, wouldn’t you want to know who did it and point fingers at someone? He actually never did that, the five doctors would certainly have mentioned it when questioned, so that is weird. The only trouble is that I don’t see why he would take his own life, get rid of any evidence or not admit what he did while he was suffering so much, so I’m hesitantly inclined to consider a murder scenario as well.
Poisoned at the Priory is so perfect for a book club discussion. This novel has such food for thought and I think you could talk hours about it. After finishing the novel readers can cast their own verdict on a special site mentioned on the first page of the novel and see what other readers thought. I entered my own verdict and the rest of the jury is with me: 59% had the same thought and my runner-up scenario was good for the second largest percentage.
Poisened at the Priory is the fourth crime for the Cold Case Jury. The author has researched and substantiated this case thoroughly with witness statements, photos, expert opinions on the poison… and presented it in a very pleasant way to get through these facts (I thought it a great idea to start with the different scenarios and then follow up with evidence). This was an unexpected treat to read and I can’t wait to read the other books in this series!
I received a free paperback copy of this novel from the publisher Mirror Books. This is my honest opinion.