One of Britain’s first and most prolific female serial killers is the subject of a new book by Marjorie DeLuca.
The St. Boniface resident, who writes under the pen name M.M. DeLuca, will release The Savage Instinct on May 18, and it's available for pre-order on online platforms and at booksellers. The book is published by Inkshares.
Mary Ann Cotton, who hailed from County Durham in northeast England in the 19th century, was suspected of murdering up to 21 people, including her children, stepchildren and husbands. She was hanged in prison in 1873.
According to Inkshares’ website, the book is described as Alias Grace meets Gaslight. "Northern England 1873: A childless wife struggles against her controlling husband to maintain her identity, sanity, and freedom in a society scandalized by the arrest and trial of a mass murderess who killed her own children," the website teases.
Without giving too much away, DeLuca’s book is a historical suspense-thriller that has its own protagonist named Clara. The story follows her quest for her freedom and sanity, and she’s guided by an unlikely mentor — Cotton.
Deluca, who was also born and raised in County Durham before emigrating to Canada some years ago, said one of the interesting aspects of the book is how Cotton was treated in Victorian society.
"Mary Ann Cotton was a prolific poisoner in the 1870s," DeLuca told The Lance recently. "She lived around the corner from my grandmother."
"Did she get a raw deal? If she was tried nowadays, would she have been executed? How much of it was hearsay? It was a sensational story and all over the papers, so was there an element of trial by media?"
In The Savage Instinct, DeLuca explores a number of themes, including the dichotomies between a childless woman and a woman with kids, dealing with the loss of a child, and the treatment of women in the Victorian age.
"I’ve consulted lots of textbooks about how women were treated back then, and it was a terrible state of affairs to be a woman, at times. In the book, Clara was deemed an unnatural woman and treated as an outcast."
DeLuca said she’s proud to have written what she feels is a powerful book, but with that comes a big responsibility when focusing on a historical — and in this case, infamous — figure.
"There are parts of this that have haunted me. When searching for Mary Ann’s picture online, her face and eyes almost look dead. Also, I agonized at times about the way I wanted to present her, and I had to be really careful about that. You can fictionalize a real person, yes, but there is a sense of responsibility, especially as she was a criminal who could be quite manipulative and able to get lots of people on her side. She was very clever for an uneducated woman," she said.
No stranger to the writing life, DeLuca has published a number of books. Her first novel, The Pitman’s Daughter, was shortlisted for the Chapters Robertson Davies First Novel in Canada award in 2001. DELuca went on to self-publish it on Amazon in 2013, and it’s been a regular fixture on bestseller lists since.
She studied psychology at the University of London, and also studied creative writing with Carol Shields.
DeLuca was an English teacher at Sisler High School from 1997 to 2002, and at École secondaire Oak Park High School from 2002 to 2011. "I used to teach creative writing there, and I’m still in touch with a lot of them," she said.
It’s fair to say DeLuca is from creative stock.
One of her brothers, Trevor Horn, is a massively influential music producer who was also a member of the Buggles who had the hit single Video Killed the Radio Star, and another brother, Ken Horn, is the producer of the series Line of Duty.
Go online at marjoriedeluca.blogspot.com or www.inkshares.com/books/the-savage-instinct for more information.
The Lance community journalist
Simon Fuller is the community journalist for The Lance. Canstar’s senior reporter, he joined the team in June 2009 to write for The Sou’wester, which was then the new paper in the Canstar family.