Book Review - Blackmail, Sex and Lies by Kathryn McMaster

This story is a fictionalised account of a real relationship and murder trial that occurred in 19th century Glasgow, Scotland. The relationship was between the socialite Madeleine Hamilton Smith, and her working class lover, Pierre Emile L’Angelier. In 1857 Pierre died and Madeleine was accused of his murder, but was eventually acquitted.
It’s an intriguing story because of its complexities. Emile was older than Madeleine and keen to improve his social standing, Madeleine was young, naive and stubborn. They moved in different social circles, but she wilfully ignored that and the instructions of her family, and he unhesitatingly seduced her. When she realised her family would never accept him she tried to break it off, and he threatened to expose their sexual relationship by using her letters. This would have ruined her.
Emile also took arsenic, supposedly to improve his health and looks, but died of arsenic poisoning. The question is, did Madeleine poison him, was it accidental, or did he try to set her up?
The author skilfully constructs the events of their secret liaisons, and uses real letters within the story to illustrate the nature of their relationship, these offer fantastic insights into their personalities. Known facts are woven into the story, presenting the reader with the evidence to make up their own mind as to what really happened. Fascinating stuff!
I found myself racing through the last half of the book to see how it unfolded. The book opens with Emile’s death, so although you know how it ends (or rather how he ends), the power of the story lies in how toxic their relationship becomes, and whether her actions suggest murder. And ultimately what happens to Madeleine afterwards.
Highly recommended.

If you'd like to buy it, check Amazon US and Amazon UK

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