This book offers the first in-depth study of one of the most gripping trials of inter-war Britain, that of farmer’s wife Beatrice Pace for the arsenic murder of her husband. A riveting tale from the golden age of press sensationalism, the book offers insights into the era’s justice system, gender debates and celebrity culture. Based on extensive research, it locates the Pace saga in the vibrant world of 1920s press reporting and illuminates a forgotten chapter in the history of civil liberties by considering the debates the case raised about police powers and the legal system.
Spanning settings from the Paces’ lonely cottage in the Forest of Dean to the House of Commons and using sources ranging from meticulous detective reports to heartfelt admirers’ letters, The most remarkable woman in England combines serious scholarship with vivid storytelling to bring to life the extraordinary lives of ordinary people between the wars.
Reviews and Comments
A fascinating analysis of one woman’s domestic disaster, the power of the press and public opinion. Loved it!Jenni Murray, host of BBC Radio 4’s “Woman’s Hour”
(Click here for the author’s interview)
A fascinating real-life murder story.Steven Pinker, on Twitter (3 October 2012)
The spectacular success of Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (2009), based on a murder mystery that unfolded in Wiltshire in 1860, seems to have created a demand for real-life historical detective stories, and Wood has produced a pacy, scholarly and thought-provoking contribution to the genre. … [I]t is quite simply an absorbing read. The case itself is a fascinating one, and Wood does it full justice. He writes crisply and vividly, and shows a real empathy for his protagonists, teasing out the likely motivations for their actions…. He has clearly learned well from the crime novelists, such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, who so entertained the British public in the 1920s.Adrian Bingham, English Historical Review (June 2014)
A splendid piece of historical detective work…immaculately researched, fluently written and utterly compelling.Dominic Sandbrook, Literary Review (Dec 2012-Jan 2013)
Sometimes life is better than fiction. Is there any novelist who could have got this extraordinary story so perfectly right, inventing it: the violence at the heart of it, the suspense, the succession of revelations, the passions so raw and inchoate that they have a mythic force? And then there’s the grand sweep of the narrative, beginning in the bleak poverty of an obscure cottage in the Forest of Dean, acted out finally on the national stage. […] John Carter Wood’s book about the Pace trial works because of his sober and scrupulous assembly of the evidence, quoting the words that were spoken and written at the time so we can feel the textures of the material for ourselves – the found poetry of precise reportage.Tessa Hadley, in The Guardian (26 October 2012)
Just for once, my crime book of the year isn’t a novel, but a factual account. In 1928, a quarryman called Harry Pace died of arsenic poisoning and his wife, Beatrice, was tried for his murder. John Carter Wood’s account of the case and trial has it all: suspense; surprise; and a searing account of one woman’s life, marriage, and journey from poverty and obscurity to celebrity and notoriety. Wood is brave enough to allow much of an incredible story to tell itself through newspaper accounts, letters and Beatrice’s private papers, and the book is all the richer for it. And because it’s a true story, he has no choice but to include some of the more incredible plot elements that a novelist might lose courage with! A fascinating snapshot of interwar England, brilliantly brought to life.Nicola Upson, Faber website
In a fascinating display of meticulously collected evidence, Wood at first draws the reader in to ask “who killed Harry Pace?”, but the real triumph of this book is the seamless way in which the author unravels the social and cultural impact of the case as the evidence and hearsay surrounding the murder mounted.Lucy Williams, Crime, Media, Culture (April 2014)
I know that this book worked in a narrative sense because for most of the time I was reading it I felt a prickling at the back of my neck that I only get from a good crime book, whether true or fictional.Kate Gardner, Nose in a Book
This book will be an invaluable aid to those interested in the history of criminal justice and British society in the 1920s.June Purvis, in the Times Higher Education (22 November 2012)
John Carter Wood writes with verve and elegance, weaving insights into the broader social ramifications of this trial without losing the thread courtroom drama that makes the book such a compelling read. He has also done much original research, clearing up questions that previous accounts left unanswered and providing dozens of illustrations, some of which have come from previously-inaccessible private archives. The result is a vivid portrayal not just of one woman’s fate, but of a society in transition. Highly recommended!Andrew Hammel (author of Ending the Death Penalty), Amazon.co.uk review
In telling this story, [Wood] references all the main authorities and rehearses all the arguments of gender history and British social history in the inter-war period. He does this so skilfully that there is no sense of being dragged away from the scene of the crime to listen to teacher. Nor does he shy away from speculating about what really happened to Harry Pace.Caitriona Clear, Women’s History Review
…[A]n engaging and suggestive analysis of the relationship between crime, culture, and politics in a formative historical period…. The result is a rich and textured archeology of a case that unfolded as much through new forms of mass media as the institutions of criminal justice. …it is hard to imagine a more thorough account of the processes through which crime became news.Matthew Houlbrook, Media History, 19.3 (2013), 391-92.
This is history as murder-mystery. John Carter Wood tells a spellbinding story of alleged murder, using the trials of the accused (Beatrice Pace) to reflect the nature of celebrity culture, the legal system, and gender relations in 1920s Britain. The fundamental question remains: did Beatrice Pace kill her husband? You will have to read the book to find out!Joanna Bourke, Professor of History, Birkbeck College
The trial of Beatrice Pace was one of the most sensational news stories in inter-war Britain. In this thoroughly researched and clearly-argued study, John Carter Wood is not solely concerned with the usual question of whether or not Mrs Pace was guilty. Rather he also focuses on the period’s celebrity culture, the role of the press, the development of public interest and the police. In so doing, he has produced a model for modern social and cultural historians.Clive Emsley, Professor Emeritus, Open University
…a thoughtful, readable account of an intriguing case, and has valuable things to say about the nature of interwar English society.Gwyneth Nair, Gender & History, 25.2 (2013), 385-86
…usefully complements studies of women convicted of murder, such as Anette Balinger’s Dead Woman Walking (2000).Tony Ward, Law, Crime and History, 3.2 (2013), 193-94.