... examination and cross-examination of witnesses given in intriguing and dramatic detail ... The author relies on a wide range of documents, including pamphlets, court reports, the prosecution brief and dozens of Irish and UK newspapers, in what he says is 'intended to be a detailed retelling of a truly tragic story and an attempt to honestly examine an extraordinary chapter in Ireland’s criminal history'. He succeeds admirably in both endeavours, while honestly acknowledging that 'a key to unlock a more complete truth about what happened' died in obscurity with William Kirwan.
Ruxton is aware that writing historical non-fiction has its own questions and constraints: do you stick faithfully with documented facts and avoid speculation about an individual’s thoughts or feelings? To do so is admirably accurate yet can create an exhaustingly rigid story. The Irish Times journalist has instead used his research to give voices and emotions to the humans behind the facts (which can be far more difficult with unpredictable real people than malleable fictional ones). The light touch evident in chapter titles has a podcast-like conversational quality, yet he also treats the subject of domestic abuse with care and sensitivity ... Ruxton’s painstaking and fair examination of this scandalous Victorian murder trial brings not only a fresh pair of eyes to the evidence of the day, but also a fresh approach to this tragic story.