| 12.5°C Dublin

Review: True crime: Murder In Monte Carlo by Michael Sheridan

They were a couple who left an impact wherever they went. He was an Irish aristocrat and Wimbledon finalist, she a seemingly successful French businesswoman. Together they scammed their way across France for two decades, always ahead of the law.

But their immoral life finally caught up with them. Their downfall?

A trunk left in a Marseilles train station in August 1907.

Within hours of its arrival, a station porter noticed drops of blood seeping from it. Police Inspector Charles Dupin was sent to investigate, and ordered one of his men to open the trunk.

"When the top was pushed back, the young man's face drained of colour and he fell backwards into the arms of one of his companions," writes Michael Sheridan in Murder in Monte Carlo, the gruesome true story of Ireland's Wimbledon finalist.

"The inspector moved forward and was confronted with an unspeakable sight. Inside the trunk was a bloodstained torso, partially covered by blood-soaked material. The legs had been hacked off. The neck was severed. There was no head . . .

"The Marseilles police chief looked again at the transport label retrieved from the side of the trunk. The destination was Paddington Station, London. The owners, Sir Vere St Leger Goold and Lady Violet Goold."

Born in Waterford in 1853 and into a life of privilege in Cork, Goold first found fame as a champion tennis player, winning the inaugural Irish Open championship in 1879 and reaching the Wimbledon final that year.

The son of a magistrate, he was sent to London just three years later because of his growing addiction to drink, drugs and gambling. There was no indication of the violence he was later capable of. "The only damage he was capable of doing was to himself," Sheridan writes.

But everything changed in 1883 when he met Marie Giraudin, an unscrupulous criminal whose ambitions for the good life could not be met through legitimate means.

The couple stole and scammed their way across France, frequently being thrown out of their accommodation, before deciding to try their luck at the casino in Monte Carlo.

Police knew from the start that the trunk's owners were not the well-heeled aristocrats they claimed to be, but a couple on the edge.

"The man asked if he could have a drink, which was allowed. He raised a glass of whisky to his lips with shaking hands, finished and immediately filled another one," Sheridan writes.

"The man was obviously in a state of distress, gulping whisky down. 'Believe me, it is not as it seems,' he said. 'We are innocent, it was someone else that' . . . 'Shut up', screamed his wife."

A search of their room revealed more horrors. The victim's head was found in a suitcase, along with a pair of bloodied legs.

Goold revealed her name was Emma Levin, a Swedish woman to whom the couple owed a small debt. She had called to their hotel to collect, and they had planned to stun her with a blow to the head before robbing her.

It all went horribly wrong, and completed Goold's remarkable transformation in fortunes.

A man that could have enjoyed a privileged place in Irish society was dead within two years. His final resting place was Devil's Island, a notorious penal colony in French Guiana off the South American coast.

He wasn't the first, or last, aristocrat to have fallen on hard times.

What is noteworthy about his story is that the murder case gripped France and received widespread coverage across the globe. But that doesn't mean it's worth almost 300 pages.

There are long passages outlining the structure of the French police force, a treatise on philosophy and transcripts of newspaper reports of his trial. There are reimaginings of what the main characters are thinking, and even a dream sequence involving Inspector Dupin.

The advances in forensic science and psychological profiling are also spelt out, but why? The hapless murderers were so incompetent they left their name and address on the trunk.

The reader is never told the important details, like why Goold fell so far? Why did his life take such a turn for the worst?

But it's an intriguing story and this book does have its moments. The depictions of Devil's Island are vivid and show just how far Goold fell from grace, while there are flashes of insight into French life at the time.

Murder in Monte Carlo is neither history or fiction, but instead a confusing and patchy narrative that would have benefited from an index.

It tells the tale of a man whose birthright and sporting talent should have left him with a life well lived, but instead he chose to become the architect of his own misfortune, meeting his end in a hellhole, surrounded by hardened criminals and murderers.

C'est la vie.

Indo Review