My Review of “The Poisonous Solicitor” by Stephen Bates

Jul 27, 2022

As we’re working behind-the-scenes on some upcoming book promotion events, I thought this true crime book review of The Poisonous Solicitor by Stephen Bates might be of interest to you.

The Poisonous Solicitor: The True Story of a 1920s Murder Mystery

Veteran reporter Stephen Bates, who once covered both the English royals and religion for the Guardian, has since leaving the newspaper carved out an engaging and entertaining specialty: examining sensational murders from Britain’s past, especially those involving unlikely, middle-class professionals.

the poisonous solicitor

Bates’ first entry, in 2015, was The Poisoner: The Life and Crimes of Victorian England’s Most Notorious Doctor, which earned rapturous reviews. Now comes an equally worthy successor, The Poisonous Solicitor: The True Story of a 1920s Murder Mystery, about the only lawyer hanged for murder in modern England.

Understandably, cases like this are catnip to the plethora of true crime podcasts, streaming services, and feature film studios. Early on in the book, the Oxford-educated Bates hones in on their enduring appeal. “A trial is always a whodunit, but before the abolition of capital punishment it was one with the possibility of imminent execution,” sometimes within weeks of the verdict, he writes.

“A Real Whodunit”

This story, he says, “is extraordinarily dramatic and remains a real whodunit with many unanswered questions,” chiefly, whether Major Herbert Rowse Armstrong murdered his wife by arsenic poisoning a century ago.

Armstrong was a middle-class striver, studying law as a scholarship student at Cambridge University, where the future bishop of Herefordshire was a classmate. A major in the British Army during WWI, he served abroad for a time, but he did not see combat. Before the war, he and his wife, Katherine, settled in the riverside town of Hay-on-Wye in the borderland between England and Wales, where Armstrong was a respected lawyer and magistrate as well as a church warden.

“Who would ever have thought that the punctilious little professional man—an officer and a gentleman—had it in him,” Bates writes of the murder accusation.


So where did it all go wrong? Click here for the full review of The Poisonous Solicitor.

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