Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Peculiar case of the Electric Constable: A True Tale of Passion, Poison & Pursuit




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Today’s nonfiction post is on The Peculiar case of the Electric Constable: A True Tale of

Passion, Poison & Pursuit by Carol Baxter. It is 391 pages long including notes and an index. The

cover is like a old time newspaper cover with a train in the center. There is no language, no sex, and

no violence in this book. The story is told from newspaper articles, dairies, and other historical 

documents. The intended reader is someone who is interested in true crime, whodunit’s, and history. 

There Be Spoilers Ahead.

From the back of the book- The electrifying story of a criminal Quaker, a poisoned mistress, and the 

dawn of the information age John Tawell was a sincere Quaker but a sinning one. Convicted of 

forgery, he was transported to Sydney, where he opened Australia’s first retail pharmacy and made a 

fortune. When he returned home to England after fifteen years, he thought he would be welcomed; 

instead he was shunned. Then on New Year’s Day in 1845 Tawell boarded the 7.42 pm train from 

Slough to London Paddington. Soon, men arrived chasing a suspected murderer- but the 7.42 had 

departed. The Great Western Railway was experimenting with a new-fangled device, the electric 

telegraph, so a message was sent: a ‘KWAKER’ man on the run. The trail became a sensation, 

involving no apparent weapon, much innuendo, and a pious man desperate to save his reputation- 

and would usher in the modern communication age. Told with narrative verse and rich in historical 

research, this is a delicious true tale of murder and scientific revolution in Victorian England. 

Review- This was a great read. The murder is interesting and very cruel. The details and manner of 

how the murderer was caught is the root of how we catch them now. There is so much going on here. 

There is legal drama, religion, new sciences, and a man who just wanted it all. I do not find Tawell to 

be very sympathetic. I did not like him and I think that is because he was hiding behind religion for 

all his crimes. He had committed forgery with plans to continue to do so. He had relations a maid in 

his service for years then tossed her aside for a Quaker woman, who would her place in her religion 

if she married him but he did not care. His actions made it very clear to me that he only cared about 

himself.  Baxter’s writing and research are solid. She presented the case without much personal input 

until the very end. Her notes are easy to follow and I will be reading more of her stuff. I recommend 

this interesting true crime book.

I give this book a Five out of Five stars. I get nothing for my review and I borrowed this book from 

my local library.