Beware of counterfeits

Dror Wahrman

  • The Perreaus and Mrs Rudd: Forgery and Betrayal in 18th-Century London by Donna Andrew and Randall McGowen
    California, 346 pp, £24.95, November 2001, ISBN 0 520 22062 5
  • The Smart: The True Story of Margaret Caroline Rudd and the Unfortunate Perreau Brothers by Sarah Bakewell
    Chatto, 321 pp, £17.99, April 2001, ISBN 0 7011 7109 X

The story of the Perreau brothers has all the ingredients of a classic film noir: blackmail, intimidation, seduction, betrayal, mysterious encounters, shady financial transactions, courtroom intrigues, confession, retraction and, above all, an irresistible femme fatale, Mrs Margaret Caroline Rudd. Perhaps an innocent and wronged victim, but more likely a cunning manipulator of everybody around her (particularly men), she alone walks away from a disaster, seemingly of her own making, that leaves everyone else confused, injured or dead. ‘All who know you,’ one extra in the drama told her, ‘are infatuated by your spells and love you; and all who love you, you bring to destruction as fast as possible.’ Callous or sentimental, artless or conniving, the protean Mrs Rudd, with her conspicuous and limitless wardrobe, cut a figure worthy of being played by Barbara Stanwyck or Joan Crawford. (Or, judging from the picture on the cover of Sarah Bakewell’s book, Veronica Lake. Except that it isn’t of Mrs Rudd – a publishing imposture to follow on the heels of so many other impostures in this story.)

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