When Glasgow socialite Madeleine Smith meets Emile L’Angelier, the pair embark on a disastrous romance. With the Frenchman constantly haranguing her to introduce him to her family, the naive young woman is caught in a difficult position. Knowing her lover’s working class status will never be accepted, she endeavours to call off the affair. But Emile has other ideas, and for two years, he pursues his intended bride. However, Madeleine has met someone else and her former beau is now the only thing that stands in the way of a suitable marriage. When the unlucky Frenchman is found dead from arsenic poisoning, Madeleine finds herself in the dock accused of murder…
Based on the real case of Madeleine Hamilton Smith, this fascinating account explores the actions and motives of the doomed lovers, laying out the evidence against the young woman through the many letters the pair exchanged. In particular, Madeleine’s frequent purchases of poison appear to seal her fate, but was she really guilty, or did she simply make a series of bad choices?
Kathryn McMaster’s factual, but fictionalised version of the case paints a damning portrait of the young woman and her actions, showing how she implored L’Angelier to return her letters before he could expose their affair. The story is told with examples from Madeleine and Emile’s correspondence, showing how their relationship developed, as well as how it deteriorated. By the time I reached the end of the book, I had no doubts about what really happened, but then I read Ms McMaster’s own theories on the case and changed my mind.
This is an enthralling and well-told true-crime murder mystery that raises as many questions as it answers, leaving the reader to decide – did she, or didn’t she?
(If you like the sound of this one, check out Kathryn’s other book, ‘Who Killed Little Johnny Gill?‘)