THERE are, they say, only two certainties in life - death and taxes.

The inevitable spectre of death greets us all, from princes to paupers. So 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, often remarkable confessions as deeply entrenched secrets are finally unshackled in the shadow of imminent death.

Famous Last Words: Confessions, Humour and Bravery of the Departing by crime writer Chris Wood is a fascinating selection of destinies culminating in often flamboyant, captivating, final utterances before shuffling off this mortal coil.

The book, says Chris, “reveals tales of sangfroid bravery, astonishing ironies and overdue confessions, often betraying grave miscarriages of justice, throughout British history”.

Writer and poet Sir Walter Raleigh had some typically forthright and urging words for his executioner as the hesitant axeman displayed fear and reluctance to perform his stately duties. Having felt the sharp edge of the tool that would presently be rained down upon him, rather than fearing his impending doom, Raleigh is said to have offered goading encouragement to his maker.

Were the final words of convicted murderer Ernest Brown a candid confession to another killing he had committed deep in the Northumberland Moors some two years previously, which had lay unsolved?

And what of Britain’s first actor to have had a knighthood bestowed upon him? Learn of the staggering irony that saw the final words of Sir Henry Irving on a Bradford stage turn out to be his last in life...

On October 13, 1905 - a Friday the 13th that would be a fateful one for the 67-year-old actor - Sir Henry was starring as Becket, on tour at the Bradford Theatre Royal on Manningham Lane, when he suffered a stroke.

He returned to Bradford’s Midland Hotel feeling unwell and died shortly afterwards in a chair at the bottom of the grand staircase. He had shown no sign of illness and appeared in good health when, two days previously, he attended a luncheon as a guest of the Mayor of Bradford.

Queen Victoria sent a wreath for Irving’s coffin, which couldn’t be carried out through from the hotel’s front entrance due to the crowds gathered outside.

So it was that the body of the finest actor of his generation, which was subsequently laid to rest at Westminster Abbey, was taken through the kitchens to the adjacent railway station.

The dramatic demise is commemorated in a plaque at the Midland Hotel. But it would be Sir Henry’s manager, also staying at the hotel, who would go on to achieve even greater notoriety...he was Bram Stoker, author of Dracula.

Stoker had worked for Irving for several years as a business manager at the Lyceum Theatre in London’s West End, and they had a close, albeit occasionally tempestuous, friendship. It is said that when Stoker began writing Dracula, Irving was the chief inspiration for the charming vampire killer.

Irving’s death, and his prophetic final last words on stage, is one of several intriguing tales - some dark, some witty, some poignant - presented in fascinating detail by Chris Wood.

As a freelance writer and researcher, Chris has written for the popular UK True Crime Podcast and is a student of criminology and psychology.

This is his debut book and he tackles a subject which has captivated him from an early age. He lives in Northumberland with his wife and daughter.

* Famous Last Words: Confessions, Humour and Bravery of the Departing, published by Pen & Sword Books, is available for an introductory offer of £11.99 to pre-order at and is in some bookshops priced £14.99.