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Penned by Owen Davies, a historian on modern and contemporary witchcraft, Murder, Magic, Madness: The Victorian Trials of Dove and the Wizard is the perfect book for anyone that lives for the cold hard facts. That’s primarily what this book is. There are no real theories or opinions or deep psychological analysis. Everything recounted in Murder, Magic, Madness is documented in history and told with about as much charisma as a technical manual. Not saying that the book is bad, or boring, only that it feels a bit like an Encyclopedia.

I am impressed with the amount of information that Davies gives though. There’s very little detail about this crime available, which means Davies must have worked mega hard on his research. It’s admirable, the amount that he shares, but it’s a shame that he writes it with such frankness.

In 1850s England, in a time when people were living between magic and science, there was a man named William Dove who murdered his wife Harriet, and he wasn’t at all discreet about it. Dove was an interesting fellow. Raised by devout Methodists that dotted on him, William was a true problem child that grew into an even more difficult adult.

Although there weren’t many proper diagnoses available during this time, it’s possible that the man had both a mental illness and a learning disability. He had violent mood swings that came without warning and seemed incapable of grasping a concept if too complicated. The author assumes he had Type 1 Bipolar Disorder and the theory certainly matches up with Dove’s many symptoms.

Dove struggled through adulthood, until one day, he meets a woman who falls in love with him. A strange woman with a presumably equally unpredictable temper named Harriet, and these two had a strange marriage. Of course, none of their home life is discussed in great detail but pieced together through first-hand accounts. House servants, neighbors, and friends who all describe the relationship as being like that of Frank and Monica from Shameless. A mix between extremely happy, extremely sad, childlike puppy love and violent explosions, up until the day that Dove decided to kill her.


Cunning Folk

The beginning of Dove’s demise started with Henry Harrison, a cunning-folk, and a real do**hebag. Cunning-folk were “professional” practitioners of magic in Britain. They were basically fortune-tellers and fake wizards that called themselves doctors. Obviously, most were frauds. The ones that weren’t could just be called herbalists. They were popular during a time when science was getting difficult to swallow and a lot of people found comfort in magic. Life was hard and, like religion, magic let people hold on to the belief that they held some kind of power over their life.

Davies actually wrote another book all about cunning-folk titled Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History so if you ever want to know more you can check that out.

Harrison was a cunning-folk who lived near the Dove’s and quickly became a person of great fascination for William. According to Murder, Magic, Madness, cunning-folk were often used to track down stolen possessions, which is how the two men supposedly met. Dove was mighty impressed with Harrison’s “skills” and started seeing him for other problems which included domestic issues, particularly involving his wife.

It was technically Harrison’s idea to kill her, but Dove needed no persuasion to go along with the plan. To get him on board, Harrison promised Dove that after Harriet died, fate would see him remarry a new wife who would not only be more beautiful but also rich. Harriet wasn’t exactly a “Stepford Wife”. She talked back, had a temper, and fought her husband’s raging alcoholism. So hearing that he was soon due a new and younger wife, Dove spurred into action and he slowly started the process of poisoning Harriet with strychnine.

Immediately after she got sick, he proceeded to go around the town and make sure he looked as guilty as humanly possible. I’m going to be honest, this whole section of the book had me in hysterics. The things Dove did to make sure he wouldn’t be suspected could’ve made it on the list for the world’s dumbest criminals. It took several days for Harriet to die, as he would give her numerous doses of poison, but every time she showed signs of improvement, Dove would straight up tell people she was going to die. Her doctors and friends came to check-in, and cheer at the color returned to her cheeks, only for Dove to walk in the room and just start talking about funeral arrangements. He even went to the coroner, or the equivalent of one back then, and ask if there was any chance that an autopsy wouldn’t be performed on Harriet.

You’d almost think he was trying to get caught, or maybe he was just that stupid. By the time someone suspected something it was too late. Harriet was dead and it wasn’t an easy passing. She clearly suffered and Dove never got this new wife he was promised. Instead he got shackled and carried off to the jailhouse.

Profile of William Dove as shown in Murder, Magic, Madness

I have my own theory about why Harrison suddenly suggested that Harriet be killed and it involved the custody of a walking stick. Harriet and Harrison made no attempts to hide their apparent distaste for one another but it was only after Dove decided to gift his wizard friend his own personal walking stick that the relationship turned dangerously sour. When Harriet found out her husband gave his walking stick away to a quack she demanded he that get it back. She even went over to Harrison’s house to forcibly reclaim it. Eventually, she succeeded and Dove got his stick back, but not before Harrison carved his initials into the handle. Almost immediately after this dispute is when the plan to kill Harriet started taking form. Meaning there’s a strong chance Harrison made the suggestion all out of spite. Don’t come between two men and their gift exchange.

Trial and aftermath

I’m actually shocked by how thin Murder, Magic, Madness is considering how jammed back it is. It crams in as much as it can in under 300 pages and a lot of it has to do with the murder trial. This takes up most of the book, which might be why I often found myself bored with it. I hate everything about court. One of the reasons why I can never finish a John Grisham novel.

Most of the court sections feel like a transcript; “characters” pop in one after another, every defense and every argument is summed up to its bare minimum, letters written by Dove are presented as well as statements made by witnesses. There’s the introduction of the insanity defense which just introduces several passages of experts arguing over Dove’s mental state with some claiming he was totally deranged and others assuming he was mentally handicapped. It was a “moral insanity” versus “moral idiocy” debate with a few crying out “inborn imbecility.”

It doesn’t end there though. Midway through the trial, Dove attempted a deal with the Devil that he just stole word for word from Goethe’s rewrite of Christopher Marlowe’s play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. It’s probably the weirdest detail of this story, right along with that walking stick. In the end, Dove was declared guilty and sentenced to hang. Harrison was then tracked down and charged for a multitude of offenses after his past was dug up and people discovered his many past deeds.

No one remembers William Dove today, nor Henry Harrison, but they definitely had an impact on history. Harrison caused a surging fear of intellects while Dove created a reluctant acknowledgment of insanity in relation to crime among the middle and upper class. Why Dove did what he did is never 100% understood as it’s a crime that happened 164 years ago and despite his eagerness to get Harriet out of the picture, I personally got the feeling that Dove wasn’t completely aware of the fact that poisoning Harriet would have resulted in a dead wife. There was a theory that he really believed Harrison’s prediction about Harriet’s death and that by poisoning her he was only speeding up fate.

Either way, Murder, Magic, Madness is a big court transcript sandwiched between two history lectures. Slightly boring, a bit monotone, but you’ll come away with a new look at the evolution of crime. Especially the change in shock value. Two quotes from two newspapers of that time: “This miserable story of folly and of crime goes beyond the boundaries even of fiction”- Western Flying Post, and “…a stranger story than his never passed human lips”- The Leeds Times. Imagine how scandalized they’d be if they could see some of the murder cases going on today.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Rachel Roth is a writer who lives in South Florida. She has a degree in Writing Studies and a Certificate in Creative Writing, her work has appeared in several literary journals and anthologies. @WinterGreenRoth

Book Reviews

Brutality, Motherhood, and Art: Nightbitch Review



“In the distance, she heard her husband in the backyard call for her , but she was not that woman anymore, that mother and wife. She was Nightbitch, and she was fucking amazing. It seemed she had been waiting for this for a very, very long time.” -pg 89, Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

Nightbitch is the debut novel of Rachel Yoder about a stay-at-home mother coming to terms with the loneliness and brutality of motherhood. The main character, only referred to as The Mother, begins to undergo a frightening change as she sinks deeper into a depressive state. She transforms into Nightbitch, an animalistic creature full of anger, bloodlust, and freedom. The Mother must utilize the help of a strange book and a group of multi-level marketing mommies to harness her newfound strength before she loses herself or her family.

The novel is a stunning commentary on the everyday violence of motherhood centered within the context of werewolf and mystical woman mythos. The Mother spends much of the book contemplating her future and the abandonment of her dreams. Specifically, she grapples with the loss of her ability to create art, her longtime passion. On a larger scale, Nightbitch examines how many women are asked to stop being individuals after having children and only become mothers–existing only in the presence of their child. The message is clear, poignant, dark, and at times, hilarious. The prose and structure of the book are abnormal, however, it works with the overall messaging and plot. 

As far as negatives go, Nightbitch was pretty ambiguous. This was by design, and created an aura of magical mysticism around many of the characters and events. The Mother is the definition of an unreliable narrator. However, towards the end of the book, I would have liked a little more clarity in what certain characters knew. 

Nightbitch is a must read for any parent. As a non-parent, I highly recommend it for those interested in feminist horror or more avant-garde approaches to horror narratives. Those who don’t like books with heavy introspection or ambiguous storytelling may enjoy something else, however I still think it is an interesting read nonetheless. 

4.4 out of 5 stars (4.4 / 5)

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Book Reviews

Gothic, Ghosts, and Tlachiqueros: The Hacienda Review



“Dread washed over me. Had she been sitting there, watching me sleep, the whole night? Her skin gleamed like candle wax in the light; then she grinned and whatever color her eyes had been before, now they turned red. In an instant, her skin transformed, dried and desiccated into leather, and her teeth grew long and needle sharp.” -pg 214, The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

The Hacienda is a gothic horror novel by Isabel Cañas set in the wake of Mexico’s War for Independence. The debut novel by Cañas, it delivers a classic haunted house tale with a twist of Mexican high society. Recently made homeless by the execution of her father, Beatriz marries Don Solórzano to escape her cruel treatment by her relatives. However, once she joins him on his estate, she finds that the promise of a new life holds dark secrets and darker spirits. She enlists the help of a priest, Andrés, to uncover both. Together, they find the home has more dangers than they bargained for. And more threats both supernatural and far too material await every corner.

I adored The Hacienda from start to finish. Cañas’s prose was accessible but full of deep imagery. While told from the perspective of both Beatriz and Andrés, neither outweighed the other. The perspectives were interesting and the transition between the two was well executed throughout the novel. I usually don’t seek out romantic books, but I loved the romantic and sexual tension between the two main characters. Specifically since the romantic tension developed within both perspectives, the relationship’s “will-they-won’t-they” felt both plausible and full of stakes. And of course, The Hacienda was spooky! I loved the way the spirits manifested and the impact that had on the characters.

My only minor criticisms would be the resolution was fairly quick and mostly offscreen. Though maybe I’m just saying that because I wanted to keep reading, even after the book ended! I also found myself slightly annoyed at the characters for not picking up on some of the more obvious clues to what had happened in the house. 

A thoroughly enjoyable gothic (and dare I say, romantic) novel that kept me on the edge of my seat, I highly recommend The Hacienda. If you enjoy haunted house tales, you will enjoy this book. 

4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5)

Preorder Isabel Cañas’s new book Vampires of El Norte now!

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Book Reviews

“The Family Game” Glimpses Into The 1%



Are their traditions innocent or are they darker than they seem?

The Plot

Harry, short for Harriet, is a British writer gaining popularity after the publishing of her first novel. She meets Edward, a member of the widely known Holbeck family, and the two strike up a relationship. The Holbecks are high powered executives, running family businesses that bring in massive amounts of wealth. When Harry learns she is pregnant, the couple decide that it is finally time for her to meet the family.

During her first meeting with the family, Edward’s father, Robert gives Harry a vintage tape that he says holds a story that he’d like her to listen to. As Harry listens to the tape, she begins to believe that the Holbecks have done some very bad things.

As she continues visiting the family, their strange traditions are revealed to her. The games that they play traditionally involve darkness and fear. Can Harriet find out the truth about the mysterious Holbecks?


The Verdict

Catherine Steadman outdoes herself in The Family Game. She creates such a mysterious family in the Holbecks and their dynamics are intriguing. Readers will follow Harry as she tries to determine the truth about Robert’s misdoings. The cast of family characters are a wonder to watch. We’ve all always wondered what the extremely rich live like. Harry shows us their virtues and misdeeds.

The novel really remarks on the power of wealth and the wealthy’s ability to commit audacious crimes and pay for them to go away. Robert, as the patriarch of the family, is a prime example of such. As Harry begins to discover that Robert may be confessing to a series of murders on the cassette tape, she must decide how to proceed. She knows that the power that Robert holds cannot be taken lightly.

As Harry navigates potentially deadly Christmas traditions, she races for the truth, unable to forget once she finds it. Harry is such a compelling character – a developing mother willing to risk life and limb to protect her unborn baby. Harry is brave and unapologetic and is a true testament on how to write a female main character.

It was very difficult for me to decide between 4 and 5 Cthulus, so we will call it 4.5. This is a novel I highly recommend thriller lovers check out. 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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