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Summary

A brilliant narrative investigation into the 1920s case that inspired Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Margery Allingham.  

In 1922, Major Herbert Armstrong, a Hay-on-Wye solicitor, was found guilty of, and executed for, poisoning his wife, Katharine, with arsenic. 

Armstrong's case has all the ingredients of a classic murder mystery, from a plot by Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers (indeed some aspects of his story appear in Sayers' Unnatural Death). It is a near-perfect whodunnit.  

One hundred years later, Agatha Award-shortlisted Stephen Bates examines and retells the story of the case, evoking the period and atmosphere of the early 1920s, a time of newspaper sensationalism, hypocrisy and sanctimonious morality.

©2022 Stephen Bates (P)2022 W F Howes

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An entertaining and fascinating account

In 1922, solicitor Major Herbert Rowse Armstrong was tried and found guilty of killing his wife by poisoning her with arsenic. Hanged for her murder, the case caused a scandal not only in Hay-on-Wye where he lived but across the whole country.

My first introduction to this story was via London Weekend Television’s drama, Dandelion Dead, starring Michael Kitchen as the hapless solicitor. Though it’s a cracking good bit of telly (having watched it again recently) it assumes Armstrong to be guilty and makes no attempt to portray a balanced view. This new book by Stephen Bates, therefore, filled in a lot of gaps, giving a much clearer and unbiased picture of what happened. Recreating the atmosphere of the quiet town, and the morals and attitudes of the times, the author brings the story to life without allowing his own opinions to colour the narrative. What is most interesting are the various theories surrounding another incident – that of the attempted poisoning of rival solicitor Oswald Martin – which prompted the investigation into the death of Major Armstrong’s wife.

An entertaining and fascinating account of this infamous murder case.