Rummanah Aasi
 Victorian England is one of my favorite literary periods to read about. When I was approached by publisher Head of Zeus to review The Dead Duke, The Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse, it didn't take me long to be captivated by the subject. Below is my honest review of the book.

Description: The extraordinary story of the Druce-Portland affair, one of the most notorious, tangled and bizarre legal cases of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. In 1897 an elderly widow, Anna Maria Druce, made a strange request of the London Ecclesiastical Court: it was for the exhumation of the grave of her late father-in-law, T.C. Druce.
  Behind her application lay a sensational claim: that Druce had been none other than the eccentric and massively wealthy 5th Duke of Portland, and that the - now dead - Duke had faked the death of his alter ego. When opened, Anna Maria contended, Druce's coffin would be found to be empty. And her children, therefore, were heirs to the Portland millions.
The extraordinary legal case that followed would last for ten years. Its eventual outcome revealed a dark underbelly of lies lurking beneath the genteel facade of late Victorian England.

Review: There is probably no period in history that has been immune to and captivated by scandal. The Druce-Portland affair is a sensational trial that riveted Edwardian England for more than a decade. The Dead Duke, the Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse is an engrossing tale of mystery, lies, and intrigue. Eatwell brings her talents as a researcher and knowledge of the law in trying to make sense of a case filled with riddles.
  At the heart of the book is the discovering the real identity of the Fifth Duke of Portland and his real heir. The first candidate is a very eccentric man who possibly suffered from a skin disease, lived as a recluse who refused to be seen by his servants and household staff, only communicating with them by letters. This candidate built a huge labyrinth of underground tunnels to enable him to travel through his property without detection. When he died in 1879, his cousin inherited not only the title stature, but the mansion as well as a large sum of money.
  Before he could refurbish the house, the sixth duke was startled when a second candidate claimed to be the Fifth Duke of Portland. The second candidate was made known when a widow came forth, petitioning the court to exhume the grave of her father-in-law, T.C. Druce, a London department store owner with a checkered past (an understatement as I lost count of how many women he slept with and married,  not to mention how many children, illegitimate and legitimate, he had) was the real fifth Duke of Portland and lived a double life. The widow claimed T.C. Druce was alive and who reverted to his real identity after a coffin was buried, filled not with the remains of her father-in-law but with lead. Her son, therefore, was his real heir.
 The Dead Duke, The Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse delves into the duplicitous nature that fascinated the Victorians and Edwardians alike. Each character (there are more than 40 to keep track of) are distinct and have their own motives and motivations of being involved with the case. It is clear to see why this case took so many years to straighten out. Each chapter ends with a cliffhanger bringing new questions to ponder or a discovery that made me gasp in utter disbelief. Eatwell beautifully captures the deception, media hype, greed, and fraud of the time period as well as shining a critical light on the dark side of the Victorian and Edwardian society such as the air of aristocratic entitlement and power, numbing poverty, and political corruption.
 I was very glad that the book contained a list of the characters and their connection to the Druce-Portland case to which I could refer back to in the book as it was hard to keep track of so many characters. Though the book is nonfiction it very much reads as a narrative true crime thriller. I loved how the story was formatted as a play, where the characters entered and exited after playing their "role" in court and the story. It actually made me want to see this case acted out. My only minor complaint is that Eatwell goes off on tangents that last for quite a few pages that could have been edited out and distract from the case, but it does show her enthusiasm for her subject. I would definitely recommend picking up The Dead Duke, The Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse if you are interested in learning more about the Victorian and Edwardian time period and enjoy reading about true crime that has many twists.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some graphic descriptions of potential diseases that the Fifth Duke may have had, but other than that none. Recommended for adults though suitable for teens interested in the time period.

If you like this book try: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale, London 1849 by Michael Alpert, The Art of English Murder by Lucy Worsley
5 Responses
  1. Wow. That is cool that this reads like crime thriller and it is non fiction. Also props for the character list.

  2. Kindlemom Says:

    How have I never heard of this before?It sounds fantastic and now I want to read it because I'm so curious about it!

  3. Oh I love historical books like this based on real stories. It makes me google as soon as the book is done. LOL Great recommendation!

  4. Candace Says:

    This sounds really good! All those characters to keep track of though, I'm not sure how good I'd be at that.

  5. I know absolutely nothing about this case, which will probably make it all the more interesting to read. It should give me enough to explore online for hours or days even, which I adore. So intriguing. It's been a while since I'd read something like this.

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