REVIEW: Famous Last Words – Confessions, Humour and Bravery of the Departing (2021)

A book by Chris Wood

Famous Last Words – Confessions, Humour and Bravery of the Departing was a bit different than what I expected it to be. I was expecting a true crime book looking at what people said as they stared down the gallows – perhaps entirely made of quotes or something. There is a bit of that here, but this book is a LOT more as it covers a large swath of noteworthy people and what they said before their (usually) untimely demise. The book looks at executed murderers, celebrities, esteemed royalty, and even would-be terrorists, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Chris wood takes great care to explain every detail of what leads up to the infamous final breaths, and adds context to what they are saying. In this regard, this is a very interesting history book with a number of surprises.

“Nothing focuses the mind more starkly than impending death. Its inevitable spectre greets us all; from princes to paupers and nobility to the needy. Prepare to mount the scaffold and share in the final utterings of the condemned; join the stricken in their death beds and witness unburdened tongues wag their closing, and often remarkable confessions as deeply entrenched secrets are finally unshackled in the wake of imminent death.”

I think the most interesting one in here, for me at least, was that of Sir Henry Irving, a famous Victorian actor that literally delivered his last words in a play he was acting in wherein the character he was playing was killed. Playing the lead in Becket, he uttered “Into thy hand, O Lord, into thy hands!” as the curtain fell on both the play, and sadly his own life. Irving was taken back to his hotel after folks realized his health was failing, and he died soon after. Imagine being in the audience for something like that, and realizing that was his final minutes on Earth – the sheer morbidity of it all would be crazy.

This is an enjoyable book, and an easy “read a chapter before bed” sort of thing. Pend and Sword did a Similarly structured book a while back called First World War Trials and Executions that I also enjoyed a lot for the exact same reason. It’s full of interesting facts and had some things, being outside of the UK, that I was unaware of. Definitely recommended.

If you are interested in more information on this book, please click HERE

If you’d like to buy it, please look at Kindle or physical editions

Review – Doctor Who: The Marian Conspiracy

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

Synopsis: Tracking a nexus point in time, the Doctor meets Dr Evelyn Smythe, a history lecturer whose own history seems to be rapidly vanishing.  The Doctor must travel back to Tudor times to stabilize the nexus and save Evelyn’s life. But there he meets the Queen of England and must use all his skills of diplomacy to avoid ending up on the headman’s block…

It’s no secret that the exploits of the sixth Doctor in the form of the original TV series were met with mixed reviews.  Many felt that the show was on its last legs at the time, and a few higher ups over at the BBC seemed keen on axing the show forever.  When I got into watching a lot of the classic stories, I really liked how Colin Baker played the Doctor despite his costume and the somewhat rough scripts he was sometimes handed.  As I’ve stated before these Big Finish audio dramas are where Colin seems to be at his best as the Doctor.  I would even say that his episodes are usually among my favorite.

This episode at hand, The Marion Conspiracy, is one of the better ones of this line up to this point, as it contains a few things that really set it apart: the introduction of a NEW companion, a historical timeframe, and time travel consequences.  The plot follows The Doctor and a history teacher named Evelyn Smythe as they try to figure out why Evelyn is seemingly being written out of time.  This dynamic is usually one of my favorites as I love when The Doctor takes in a companion that is a bit older and has wide-eyed enthusiasm AND wisdom; I think that’s why I liked Wilf so much in the last few David Tennant seasons.

The story follows The Doctor and Evelyn as they travel back to Tudor times to figure out exactly what Evelyn is disappearing from existence.  There are a few misunderstandings where they both assume that they are in Elizabethan England when in fact they are at the court of Queen Mary.  They both get embroiled in a plot to kill Mary and ultimately try to stop it.  All in all, this was a very good audio drama, and is one of the better ones that I’ve listened to so far.  The acting, plot, and pure historical awesomeness, all click in such a way to make me the most happy.

click here to listen to a trailer

My rating 4 out of 5