Review - BLACK WIDOW, Carol Baxter
The second book from this author I've now read, I'm growing to increasingly like the manner in which she tells her true stories. Woven into a narrative that reads like a tall tale but true, BLACK WIDOW isn't a dry retelling of facts. Having said that, there appears to be sufficient research and veracity in the facts of the case to make it all the more shocking.
Louisa Collins was executed in Sydney, the first female "serial killer" in colonial Australian history. There is so much in this story that seems wrong. For a start there seems to be major question marks about her guilt, not helped by four trials that allowed witnesses, especially her own daughter, to "practice" their evidence. There's even that question of 4 trials in total. Surely there's the whiff of witch hunt there, certainly it's had to avoid the feeling that the male dominated society were not happy about an alleged female husband killer walking free no matter how dodgy the allegations might be. There's also the connections drawn in the book between the demeanour of Collins and that of a more recent case (Chamberlain) where the defendant appeared to be tried, found guilty and convicted based on the court of public opinion. Just because Collins conducted herself in a particular manner in the dock.
Then there's that perennial chestnut of political interference and corruption. The more history is revealed, the more chastened and depressing it is to realise that there has been precious little time when politics was above question - maybe the shining light at the end of that particular tunnel is that these days we know if we care to pay attention.
BLACK WIDOW is a fascinating book to read, it's beautifully constructed, making history come alive, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions on many of the aspects of the story of Louisa Collins.
'Never before in the hundred year history of Australia has a female prisoner become so notorious as Louisa Collins.' - Evening News. Two inquests, four trials, three hung juries and the executioner...but was Louisa Collins really a husband killer? Was she the callous adulteress, drunkard and liar known as the Botany Bay Murderess and the Lucrezia Borgia of Botany Bay? Or was this mother of seven a spirited and defiant woman who was punished for breaching society's expectations of womanly behaviour? Compelling, freshly told and richly detailed, Black Widow uncovers the truth of a story that challenged the morality, the politics and the notion of law in an Australia on the edge of nationhood...