Dancing For The Hangman
Published November 2008
A novel about Dr Crippen
Chosen by January Magazine as one of the best crime novels of the year
'One of the finest fictionalisations of a classic criminal case I've ever read..excellent and sometimes amusing writing.'
Jon L. Breen, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine
'True crime is fascinating when it is presented as fiction by an author as skilful as Martin Edwards. This highly original reconstruction of the Crippen murder case gives a
new interpretation of the facts: persuasive and original.'
Jessica Mann, The Literary Review
'So many books have been written about Dr.Crippen that you might think there's nothing new to be said about the case. In this intriguing novel, Martin Edwards proves that a fresh perspective is both possible and rewarding. While awaiting execution in Pentonville, Crippen looks back on his life and recalls its major events in detail. We learn about the upheavals in his professional life and about the sexual chemistry between him and his second wife, the vibrant Cora Turner (real name Kunigunde Mackamotzki). The relationship with Ethel Le Neve is also explored in depth. Crippen emerges as a much more interesting and complex figure than hitherto. What the author has done is to blend scrupulous research with imaginative insight into a work that offers a genuine reinterpretation. A trained lawyer, Edwards is best-known for his Harry Devlin series. In this probing, persuasive, well-written and often startling work, he has surpassed his usual high standards.'
Keith Miles, Crime Time
'Most students of criminal history know the fundamentals of the Hawley Harvey Crippen murder case. In 1910, that reportedly mild-mannered, Michigan-born homeopathic practitioner is said to have slain and then buried the partial remains of his domineering and unfaithful spouse, music hall singer Cora Crippen (aka “Belle Elmore”), beneath the brickwork floor of their London basement. Afterward, Crippen and his much younger employee and lover, Ethel Le Neve -- the two disguised as father and son -- fled Great Britain aboard the SS Montrose, bound for Canada, where they dreamed of beginning a new life together. However, their plans were foiled in dramatic fashion by Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Walter Dew. After being tipped to their escape via wireless telegram (a technological turning point well recounted by Erik Larson in Thunderstruck), Dew set off in pursuit on a faster ship, and was waiting for the Montrose when it finally entered Canada’s St. Lawrence River. He quickly took Crippen into custody and returned him to England, where the culprit was found guilty of homicide and hanged. That’s the framework of this tale, but around it Martin Edwards packs considerable substance -- emotional, entertaining and intriguing -- as he seeks to make sense of what led Crippen to poison Cora and then try to conceal her dismembered corpse. Retelling the story from Crippen’s point of view, Edwards casts his protagonist as a man too naïve and stoic for his own good, falling for a woman who manipulated him without compunction, abused him verbally and then cheated on him with younger admirers. Crippen trusted in people when he should not have, stayed in a marriage he ought to have abandoned long before violence resulted (if only the prejudice against divorce had not been so intense in his era) and may have put more faith in his legal defenders than they deserved. Edwards sees Crippen as a romantic, hungry for happiness, even if it only lasted briefly. Other fictionists have tackled the Crippen case, but none so successfully as Edwards does in Dancing for the Hangman.'
J. Kingston Pierce, January Magazine
'An elegant, suspenseful, beautifully written reconstruction of Dr Crippen, revealing the man as never before, and also a thumping good novel.'
'An intriguing story told with intelligence, compassion and very great skill.'
'Martin Edwards dissects not only the facts but also the gaps and uncertainties in the historical record. This novel may bring us as close to the truth about Crippen as we are ever likely to get.'
'Martin Edwards has found an utterly compelling angle on the Crippen case, combining chills and poignancy in a highly original way.'
'The fiction brings a new insight into the character and time of the notorious doctor and it contains some of Martin's finest writing. Definitely not to be missed!'
'Was Dr Hawley Crippen a murderer? This absorbing novel, based on official documents and reports, tells Crippen's story as written by him in Pentonville Prison awaiting execution for the murder of his second wife Cora, known as Belle Elmore, a musical hall actress of modest talent.
Martin Edwards' gripping book left this reader wanting to know more about this intriguing case.'
Always tense and increasingly dramatic, and with a final twist which, for the uninitiated, like myself, is wholly unexpected, Dancing for the Hangman is a novel to savour. Probably Edwards’ best book to date.
Martin Edwards has matured into a fine stylist. Having not visited his published work for some time, it was a pleasure to engage with this robust, unflinching prose, and to watch an experienced and self-assured author at work on the page.
'A fictionalised story of Dr Crippen which takes into full account all the evidence and might have provided the definitive answer to the perennial puzzle: was he guilty of murdering his wife, or wasn’t he?
This novel by Martin Edwards, who is known for his detective fiction (the Harry Devlin books and the renowned Lake District series), shows off the skills of a master storyteller and also the mind of a first class lawyer: Edwards’ day job. While Dancing for the Hangman is a captivating read, rattling along at a wicked pace, it is also a careful and clever reconstruction of known facts, with an intriguing character portrait and a brilliant, yet plausible solution.
The novel paints an absorbing picture of society in the early twentieth century, its mores and morals and its freedoms and opportunities. Even more fascinating, we get an in-depth view of a flawed but very human personality, a long stretch away from the cold-hearted monster judicial history portrays.
The author tells Crippen’s story in the first person, and to do this he uses an ingenious device. Edwards has the alleged murderer, in prison, writing a true account for his solicitor to reveal to the world, in the hope that this sensational new evidence will support his appeal. It is interspersed with diary comments, extracts from love letters to Ethel Le Neve, detail from the murder trial and other juicy snippets.
Crippen goes back to the beginning for his memoir. We get a smattering of his childhood in Coldwater (well named it seems) Michigan USA, his first trip to England, his initial sexual adventures and his first miserable marriage. Sex is a dominant theme in these memoirs: we are presented with Hawley Harvey Crippen as an outwardly reputable man with an indelicate obsession. This focus is believable, given Crippen’s apparent motive for killing his second wife, the wayward Cora – so he could live freely with his new love, subservient secretary Le Neve. (Divorce was out of the question as Cora was a practising Catholic – and so was Crippen, on her instruction!)
The book explores Crippen’s sexual peccadilloes and his business ethics; both dubious. Some would call him a charlatan: the Crippen personality we meet in Edwards’ book would deny that, but he nevertheless views his homeopathy in business terms. He appears more clear-sighted over business than he ever manages to be about the women in his life, especially Cora, who beguiles and bewitches him for years. Best of all, we see Crippen in double vision: how he thinks of himself – respectable, a man of passion, pragmatic; and how he appears to the reader – sordid, weak and naive; a nice contrast and testament to the quality of the writing.
The characterisation is in fact so good we are prepared to believe what he declares at the outset; that he is innocent. We don’t quite see how Edwards’ Crippen would ever have the temerity to murder his controlling wife. Yet despite his character flaws, this reader at least never lost sympathy for the man or stopped hoping that he somehow evaded his dreaded sixty seconds dangling at the end of a rope. The actual ending, foreshadowed throughout, provides a very satisfying revelation and one which a modern audience will readily embrace.'
Dea Parkin, Shots
'The book is a page-turner, humorous at times, as the author was able to flesh out this complex main character... I highly recommend this book to those who not only enjoy a good crime novel, but are fascinated with real-life characters that are likeable yet have a dark side.'
Jeff Westerhoff, The Historical Novels Review
'Dancing for the Hangman may well be Edwards’ best book so far.'
Sue Lord, Mystery Women