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Sunday, January 4, 2015

Were There Two Men or Only One? An Edwardian True Mystery!

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife And The Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and IntrigueThe Dead Duke, His Secret Wife And The Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue by Piu Marie Eatwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thomas Charles Druce, owner of a London department store and quite affluent dies in December of 1864. He leaves several children, one of whom inherits the Baker Street Bazaar.

William John Cavendish-Bentick-Scott, 5th Duke of Portland, reclusive, unmarried with no heirs, dies at his estate, Welbeck Abbey in December 1879.

Two very distinct gentlemen, one of whom was contracted to do some work on Welbeck Abbey by the other, but seemingly with no other connections, died 15 years apart in two locations, considerably distant from each other.

End of story or so it would seem. Until, in March of 1898 when Anna Maria Druce, the daughter-in-law of T.C. Druce and the widow of his son, Walter Thomas, appears in St Paul's Cathedral. She bears a petition to the church court to allow the exhumation of TC Druce. She claims he did not die in 1864 but rather feigned his death so that he could shed the double life he was leading. That, in actuality, T.C. Druse was the 5th Duke of Portland and that her family is therefore the rightful heirs to the Welbeck Estate and the title, not the distant relative who at present is the 6th Duke of Portland.

To say that this claim is a dropped bombshell in society, opens many cans of worms and becomes a cause celebre is all to quite understate the events that unfolded through the next ten years.
The cast of characters and their tales are fascinating, the unearthed secrets of the lives led by the people involved in the two families are amazing.

The book is divided into nice short chapters, each of which carries one further into the story and leads one to jump right into the next one to see where the threads will lead. Australian bushmen, New Zealand widows, nurses, lawyers, detectives, newspapermen, secretaries --some of whom claim that these two men were one and the same, others who say they were not--keep the reader guessing until almost the moment when the grave is finally open--but even then, the author leaves you hanging a bit longer before the findings are revealed.

But, the story does not end there, the author carries the lives of the characters beyond that final legal decision. And the reader is glad to know what happened to them all once the case is closed and the mystery laid to rest.

As good as any fictional mystery but all the more enjoyable because it is not fiction.

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