Susan Bennett, published privately, 2020.
Susan Bennett’s 470-page book is full of interesting things, as her “anti-heroine” builds up her brothel empire, to make money from the clientele of her brothels, exploiting the girls who had to work in them, but looking after the welfare of her own children, who were privately educated. (And we shouldn’t forget that many of the unfortunate girls who worked in brothels would contract – and pass on – sexually transmitted diseases that could kill them, at a time when there were no effective remedies for them) But many of the interesting things in the book aren’t relevant to the theme of her mid-19th century Liverpool procuress – a weakness as the subject is both intriguing and sensational. The author sometimes follows leads that she should have ignored, because they were irrelevant to her subject; she writes in a jaunty and often ungrammatical manner; she hasn’t revised her text to correct minor errors of grammar and spelling, such as the repeated “Skelthorn St” for Skelhorn Street, and she goes from the present tense to the past sometimes confusingly. The book, with self-discipline on her part, could have been much shorter. Some of her observations on facts are dubious and obviously naive, It is interesting, looking at many of the drawings she uses, that they aren’t based on any contemporary pictures, as it appears that there are no surviving pictures of Mrs Gallagher or others drawn specially. The resulting drawings seem to be there because a book needs illustrations – unlike the plans she includes, these add nothing.
This is only one of the books Mrs Bennett has written on her subject, and not having read the other two books, I can’t comment on them, apart from to say that one book on this character could be enough. (All three books are available on Amazon)
An index would have helped the reader who wants to bring together references to the same people and subjects at a second – or even a first – reading – and to enable readers to discover earlier references to people who suddenly pop up again in her text. (Word makes indexing a book very easy) Without its central subject, the leading brothel-keeper of mid-19th century Liverpool, there would probably be no good reason for reading this book at all, but I spent a lot of the time while reading it, wondering where on earth Mrs Gallagher had got to!
John Cowell, September 2021