Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-08-18
- Reviewer: Staff
This engrossingly morbid reference work is the latest effort by former yeoman of the guard Abbott (A Beefeater’s Grisly Guide to the Tower of London). Several centuries’ worth of capital punishments, meted out to women in Britain and beyond, are presented encyclopedically—from “Antoinette, Marie” through “Zelle, Margarete Gertrud” (better-known as Mata Hari). Disturbingly well versed in his lurid material, Abbott explains in detail thumbscrews, the rack, the firing squad, burning at the stake, lethal injection, hangings, the guillotine, the gas chamber, and drawing and quartering. He proffers a number of practical tips. (For instance, when your neck is on the chopping block, it is in your interest to stand still lest the swordsman do a sloppy job—a shortcoming that hurts you more than it hurts him). Abbott has a fine sense of gallows humor, often taking mordant notice of trifles. When the electric chair was new, he tells us, it turned its subjects into fashion plates, as “no reports of executions could possibly be complete without a description of how victims were dressed at the time of their deaths.” In this way, Abbott turns macabre stuff into a light read—if a somewhat repetitive one at a single sitting, due to the sheer number of executed ladies. (Nov.)