In forgery and perjury owned such art,
She palmed the Gold, while others paid the smart.
William Combe, The Diablo-lady, 1777
I have heard that to write a successful biography one must be enamoured with their subject in order to devote their life (for a period of time, at least) to the all consuming process of retelling the subject's life. I don't know if this is the case for Sarah Bakewell and her subject, Margaret Caroline Rudd, the infamous skank who let her boyfriend and his brother hang for a crime she committed. Bakewell brings Rudd to life in The Smart, and successfully retells her tale in a neutral tone. Perhaps, it is not Rudd that Bakewell is enamoured with, but the fascinating way in which Rudd manipulated everyone who came in contact with her; the men in her life, her servants, the public, etc.
The amount of research that went into The Smart cannot be denied. Bakewell found some remarkable details about Rudd and the Perreau brothers that will leave your mouth gaping open. However, I found that there were many slow parts in the book. I would have liked it more if Bakewell summarized the actual crime and trial more. She drew out the details so they would get a bit confusing and/or repetitive. Another criticism I have is that her voice seemed to switch back and forth from novel narrative to biographical narrative. I would have liked her to keep one voice throughout the book.
However, the book is still of reputable quality and worth reading if your curiosity is peaked by the wicked Margaret Caroline Rudd. Rudd's many devious schemes seem like something only a Kevin Spacey character could be capable of. So thank goodness Sarah Bakewell is there to remind us that sometimes truth is stranger (or more horrifying) than fiction.