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Full Title:Amazing True Stories of Female Executions: Martyrs, Murderesses and Madwomen
I'm a bit of a history nut - not just the kings and queens side of things, but social history too - how people lived, what they ate, and crime and punishment. I particularly like the gory, grisly side of things, so when one of the books in a biography epub collection I had turned out to be this book, dealing with the subject of Female executions, I was quite interested to give it a read.
The author, Geoffrey Abbott, is a former Yeoman Warden at the Tower of London, a site famous itself as being the site of many executions. He has written several other books on the topics of execution, torture, and the history of the Tower, and having worked there for many years with access to the Tower archives, is able to produce this book, which gives well researched, if brief, accounts of various female ''criminals'' , listed in alphabetical order, their crimes, the punishment meted out to them, and any other interesting information.
I use quotation marks for the word criminals because, as Abbott points out, many of the crimes for which these women were executed are no longer crimes, and in fact some of the women were entirely innocent of any wrongdoing, taking the fall for lovers and relatives, or simply being judged for being in the wrong place, at the wrong time. He explains, where necessary, any historical context that might add to the story, and a typical entry consists of him briefly explaining the criminals background, the circumstances of the crime, how they came to be tried, what tortures were applied to raise a confession, the last days of their lives, and the carrying out of the execution. He takes time to explain the different methods of torture used - briefly in the accounts of the womens lives, and them in more detail in the appendix at the back of the book, which goes into more detail about methods of torture and execution.
The tone is kept quite light throughout the book, and most accounts are only a few paragraphs long, making this a good book to pick up and put down if you're only able to read in short bursts. There are some pictures in the book, mainly of newspaper headlines, or sketches of torture methods, although I can't comment too much on these as my e-reader screen may not display them to their fullest advantage. There weren't many pictures though, but I did like the inclusion of those depicting the various torture methods, as they would be very helpful to someone unfamiliar with these methods.
There are a couple of downsides, one being that perhaps in trying to keep the tone light hearted, Abbott makes several rather painful attempts at humour. I'm a fan of the odd pun myself. One line in particular I remember (although not word for word) was 'x needed several drops of x to kill her victims, but the executioner only needed one drop to hang her'. Mildly amusing the first time, but this pun, or variations on it, was used so many times that I began to be a bit sick of it.
I also think some accounts were too brief - but, given that some of these crimes date back hundreds of years, I suspect that may be due to a lack of contemporary written evidence.
Overall, this is an interesting book for those with an interest in historical crime and punishment. It isn't the most in depth out there, but I think it is a great book for those with just a casual interest in the subject, or to supplement existing knowledge.
4 stars - one off for weak puns.