Book Review: Mary Ann Cotton: Dark Angel – Martin Connolly *****

Timed to coincide with the launch of new ITV television drama “Dark Angel” this book chronicles the life and times of Mary Ann Cotton, the first convicted female serial killer in England. I have to confess to being interested in this story on several different levels. Female serial killers are a rare beast so it is always interesting to find out a bit more about what made her tick and to speculate on why she set out on the path that she did. I also find it fascinating from a social history point of view as well. The mining community that she grew up in also housed a few of my husband’s ancestors. It would be interesting to know what they had thought about the celebrity in their midst.

The writing style will be fairly familiar to anyone who has ever done any family history research. Connolly has opted for a factual trip through the official documentation that proves various events in Mary Ann’s life. Beautifully illustrated by photos and maps of the local area he includes copies of local census entries and birth marriage and death records from the local Methodist churches. I originally had a digital copy of the book as my review copy from the publisher but ended up buying the printed version because of these superb photos and illustrations.

Connolly does take a very fair approach to the story refusing to speculate on what might have happened – leaving much of that to the excerpts from local newspapers etc. The inclusion of some of these sensationalist reports is interesting and gives you an idea of what Mary Ann was up against in her attempt to defend herself.

This was a time with high infant mortality and outbreaks of typhoid and cholera were frequent as well as the childhood diseases like measles and chicken pox. Any family history research in this area and at this time will reveal high numbers of children not making it to adulthood although in Mary Ann’s case it is particularly damning. A female thief with four husbands, a lover and over twelve children she was only arrested after the death of her step son. After this accusation other bodies were exhumed and the case against her began to build.

It is a fascinating story of the English legal system in the nineteenth century and indeed the tabloid style newspaper coverage that was clamouring for her head long before any conviction. This is a riveting read and one that will leave you with as many questions as there are answers.

Supplied by Net Galley and Pen and Sword in exchange for an honest review.

UK Publication Date: 1 Aug 2016. 186 pages.

Mary Ann Cotton – Dark Angel: Britain s First Female Serial Killer

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