Author – Piu Marie Eatwell
Published – 2015
Genre – True Crime
There’s quite a broad spectrum of books which fall into the ‘true crime’ category – from those that are purely factual to those which ‘fictionalise’ events such as ‘The Maul and the Pear Tree’ or even put real characters into their crime fiction, as in ‘The Dante Club’. Piu Marie Eatwell’s book is very much towards the purely factual account with her story of the eccentric 5th Duke of Portland, but with an element of characterisation of those involved which helps bring the story to life.
The book is based around the Druce-Portland case which arose in 1897 when Anna Maria Druce claimed that her late father-in-law, Thomas Druce, had been the alter ego of the 5th Duke of Portland. She was petitioning for the grave of Druce to be exhumed in the belief that the coffin would be empty as the Duke had faked the death of his Druce persona. The claim would then see her children become the heirs to the Portland estate.
On the face of it this seems to be both a ridiculous claim and one that could easily be resolved. However, the book covers the the origination of the case in 1897 to its ‘resolution’ in 1908, with background pre-dating the claim thrown in for good measure. And as if that’s not enough, I was lucky to read the paperback which was updated following further information that came to light as result of the publication of the hardback version. So the case wasn’t as straight-forward as it might seem!
In setting the scene we discover that the 5th Duke was remarkably eccentric and the suggestion that he lived a double-life for some years seems more credible. The complexity of the case is compounded by the secrets people were driven to keep during the morally superior Victorian period. The legal saga was well publicised at the time and the sums involved in the Portland estate drew the interest of a number of men who were keen to manipulate the situation to take their share of the spoils. The full story sees multiple claims being made and subsequent investigations which aimed to unravel the various deceptions.
The book is obviously exactingly researched but the author’s interpretation of events and the inclusion of background which places the issues in context makes this a fascinating read.
You can see another review of this title at Fleur in her World. Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.