Dancing for the Hangman by Martin Edwards
Dancing for the Hangman is that strange hybrid sometimes referred to as faction.
Brought up in a wealthy household in Michigan, the young Crippen was surrounded by pious males and prim, though imaginative female relatives. He was steeped in the words of the Prophets, especially Isaiah, and he dreamed of escaping into a metropolis, somewhere he could experience a sophisticated urban life, where a clever man could make his fortune without risk of physical harm.
He read dime novels and the tales of Edgar Allen Poe and, of course, Dickens while he waited for adulthood to scoop him up.
Crippen moved to London with the promise of a course in Homeopathy and spent some time as a student medic in the mad house, Bedlam.
His second wife, Cora Mackamotzi, proved to be something of a challenge:
Saturday midnight in our airless bedroom on East 14th. Cora’s voice, soft and persuasive in my ear.
‘This won’t hurt.’
‘It hurt last time,’ I said.
She ran a sharp fingernail along my spine. ‘I tied the knots too tight, that’s all. It’s an easy mistake to make.’
‘My circulation was cut off. There could have been serious consequences, Cora. Remember, I’m a medical man, I’m familiar with these things.’
‘And I’m familiar with what you secretly long for,’ she cooed in my ear. ‘Never mind those silly old serious consequences. Don’t be so solemn. You like what I like. Truly you do.’
It was futile to argue and in truth she was right. I loved our games with blindfolds and neckties. Mostly Cora liked to be in control, but from time to time she begged me to tie her up and then let my imagination roam. She told me that she liked to have her hair pulled at moments of intimacy, that pain and pleasure were two sides of the same coin.
Images of her with the debauched stove manufacturer kept springing into my mind: I could not help it. In bad dreams I saw Lincoln’s fat white body lying like a beached whale on top of her. Often I woke from such dreadful moments in the small hours to find myself drenched with sweat while she slept beside me. Fighting to suppress my fear and jealousy, I used to run my hands over her flanks – and tell myself that she was mine alone. Cora would never belong to anyone else again.
Before I was half way through Dancing for the Hangman I could already understand why a husband might want to get rid of Cora, Crippen’s wife. Although Crippen himself was undoubtably something of a wimp, Cora, or Belle, as she liked to call herself, was not one to pull her punches. With her peroxide hair and her over-consumption of alcohol and food and gems, her multiple infidelities, her laziness, sour complexion and overbearing ego another, even milder-mannered spouse might have been tempted to reach for the poison vial.
Raymond Chandler said of Crippen: You can’t help liking this guy somehow. A sentiment with which Martin Edwards would concur. This fictional account of his life and death is obviously a labour of love. Always tense and increasingly dramatic, and with a final twist which, for the uninitiated, like myself, is wholly unexpected, Dancing for the Hangman is a novel to savour. Probably Edwards’ best book to date.
Martin Edwards has matured into a fine stylist. Having not visited his published work for some time, it was a pleasure to engage with this robust, unflinching prose, and to watch an experienced and self-assured author at work on the page.
Before Martin Edwards’ book came to visit I knew nothing about Dr Crippen except that he was a murderer. Now I’m not so sure.
The first edition sold out rather quickly, but the publisher, Flambard Press have already reprinted and the novel is now available again from your usual source.
The review copy was supplied by the publisher, Flambard Press.