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CrimeFiction on Trial – The Strange Affair of Madeleine Smith

  • Submitted: 18th October 2023

The Strange Affair of Madeleine Smith

I always love to read about real life cases brought back to life via fiction. When they are Victorian and very old cases, even more so as I get thrust into a society without forensics and the medical knowledge we have today. It’s always fascinating to me how they solved crimes and worked things out without the technology we have at our fingertips. Talking of fingertips, fingerprints in crime solving didn’t happen until around 1880 so just before the Jack the Ripper case.

BookTrail locations in The Strange Affair of Madeleine Smith

The Strange Affair of Madeleine Smith Douglas Macgowan

BookTrail locations in The Strange Affair of Madeleine Smith

Madeline Smith was a well-educated lady of her time. She was expected to marry well coming from a grand family but she started an affair with a man who was not of her station. Emilie L’Angelier was French, and of a lower status so the family was against their liaisons from the start. They wrote letters to each other, found a way to meet up in secret and even had premarital sex which was unheard of in those days.

Blythswood Square Glasgow – the home of Madeleine Smith

BookTrail locations in The Strange Affair of Madeleine Smith

Madeline broke off the ‘engagement’ when she was basically forced to become engaged to a wealthy man the family approved of.  It is said that L’Angelier was smitten with her and so when she broke off their relaions, he became angry and told her he would make their letters public. When you think what this couple had done – and the scandal it would have caused – something was going to happen. Madeleine apparently then had the idea to poison her lover to sort out this problem. When he was found poisoned on the doorstep of his lodgings, she was immediately put on trial.

Ramshorn Graveyard Glasgow where Emile L’Argentier is buried

BookTrail locations in The Strange Affair of Madeleine Smith

Was the case as clear cut as this? This book suggests not. Madeleine seemed to be as smitten as L’Anglelier.  She kept the liason secret and wrote many loving letters. When he threatened to reveal them,  she resumed their affair and seemed to be genuinely torn between her lover and the man her family wanted her to marry.

High Court Edinburgh where the case was held

So, why and how did L’Angelier die? Did Madeleine poison him or was he driven to suicide by the injustice of it all? There is evidence for both outcomes in the book as Madeleine did buy arsenic before the poisoning and L’Angelier did seem somewhat unstable in the days leading up to his death.

This is a very interesting case. Who is guilty? You can decide but the evidence is more compelling in one way than the other I think.


What do you think? Would love to know.


BookTrail Boarding Pass: The Strange Affair of Madeleine Smith



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