For a time, the name Dr. Crippen immediately conjured up images of depravity and murder. In 1910, Hawley Crippen, a homeopathic doctor from Michigan, was hanged in London for the murder of his wife, Cora. Crippen, or so the story went, decided to replace his wife with his lover, killing Cora and burying her body in his basement. In this imaginative novel, told mainly in the first person by Crippen himself, Edwards, author of the Harry Devlin series, offers up a clever reappraisal of the case. Edwards’ Crippen is not the coldhearted murderer of legend; he’s a patsy, easily swayed by the promise of sex or financial success, a weak and pathetic man who claims that he did not kill his wife. (There is some small possibility, based on recent DNA evidence, that Crippen may not have bumped off Cora after all.) Alternately funny and unsettling, the book examines the historical record, filling in some of the gaps and offering up new answers for some of the case’s key questions. An excellent example of the nonfiction novel.
This review originally appeared in Booklist, November 2009.