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On the Sofa

Kate Summerscale: ‘Making a Murderer’, 5 January 2017

... The Netflix​ documentary series Making a Murderer opens with wobbly video footage of the release from jail of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man convicted in 1985 of violent sexual assault. He’d been in prison for 18 years, we learn, until advances in DNA technology revealed that he was innocent of the crime. Then a cello strikes up, and we cut to the succession of images that will open each episode: birds moving through a darkening sky, bare trees, a trailer home, reflections warping in the bruised metal panels of an abandoned car ...

Flirting is nice

Mary-Kay Wilmers: ‘Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace’, 11 October 2012

Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady 
by Kate Summerscale.
Bloomsbury, 303 pp., £16.99, April 2012, 978 1 4088 1241 9
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... and flirted with their tutors (on some occasions ‘seduced’ would have been the right word). Kate Summerscale sees Isabella as an ‘English Madame Bovary’. Henry, had he read Flaubert’s novel, would have agreed and used it as he used her diary as proof of her unfitness to be his wife. Almost everything we know about her comes from the ...

The butler didn’t do it

Bee Wilson: The First Detectives, 19 June 2008

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or the Murder at Road Hill House 
by Kate Summerscale.
Bloomsbury, 334 pp., £14.99, April 2008, 978 0 7475 8215 1
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... The word “clue”,’ Kate Summerscale writes, ‘derives from “clew” meaning a ball of thread or yarn.’ In mid-Victorian England, clues were satisfying objects to be grasped, then unknotted or unravelled. Clues pointed the way to go. On his way into the Minotaur’s labyrinth, Theseus unravels a ball of red thread given him by Ariadne, so that he can find his way out again, gathering the thread as he goes ...

If everybody had a Wadley

Terry Castle: ‘Joe’ Carstairs, the ‘fastest woman on water’, 5 March 1998

The Queen of Whale Cay: The Eccentric Story of ‘Joe’ Carstairs, Fastest Woman on Water 
by Kate Summerscale.
Fourth Estate, 248 pp., £12.99, August 1997, 1 85702 360 9
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... while others shine for a time then disappear. Marion Barbara (‘Joe’) Carstairs, the subject of Kate Summerscale’s vastly entertaining new biography, The Queen of Whale Cay, would seem to fall into the latter category. In the Twenties, Carstairs (1900-93) was briefly yet wildly celebrated as the ‘fastest woman on water’ – Britain’s premier ...

Astral Projection

Alison Light: The Case of the Croydon Poltergeist, 17 December 2020

The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story 
by Kate Summerscale.
Bloomsbury, 345 pp., £18.99, October, 978 1 4088 9545 0
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... of them he simply can’t explain.The Haunting of Alma Fielding lends itself to spoofing, though Summerscale lets the reader do the sniggering, allowing herself only the occasional dry aside. The Fieldings are also prime candidates for the kind of class condescension that inspired many humorists between the wars. Les is a tradesman with a cigarette tucked ...

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