Marr, Chris - 'The Lady of the Manor'
We are authentically transported back to the Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court in London during the early years of the last century. George Erskine is on trial for the murder of his wife Emily on the 6 July 1903. The case looks hopeless and George who is wholly innocent, can almost feel the hang-man's rope around his neck.
How did he get into this mess? George thinks back to how it all began. He was a former soldier, who had been injured during his service in the Boer War and left with a permanent limp. He met Emily, shortly after he returned from South Africa. He was staying with a former school chum at his house in Mayfair and through him attending many social functions, where he as an ex-soldier was able to enjoy the popularity that was accorded to those of the British Army who had some inner experience of events such as the Relief of Mafeking. After meeting Emily and attending many social events with her, his attraction turned to feelings of something far deeper.
They want to marry but, after meeting poor crippled George, her father is opposed to the union and they have to wait until the sick old man dies. When he dies Emily becomes his sole heir and inherits a huge estate and much other property and money. She marries George only with the condition that the union will not be consummated until she is ready as she had an unfortunate experience of near rape when she was a child. On the first anniversary of that promise, the marriage had still not been consummated and Emily has always locked the door of her bedroom before retiring for the night.
George goes to her bedroom that night and finds the door open. He realises that Emily is not just unconscious but is in fact dead. The servants call the police, who because of circumstantial evidence arrest poor George. He goes to trial and ultimately an astonishing denouement occurs.
I found this book brilliantly researched (including a brand of cigarettes only available in 1903), meticulously well written and tightly focused. A truly formidable first novel and I hope we see much more from the pen of Chris Marr.
Terry Halligan, England