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The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime

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In this fascinating exploration of murder in nineteenth century England, Judith Flanders examines some of the most gripping cases that captivated the Victorians and gave rise to the first detective fiction Murder in the nineteenth century was rare. But murder as sensation and entertainment became ubiquitous, with cold-blooded killings transformed into novels, broadsides, ba In this fascinating exploration of murder in nineteenth century England, Judith Flanders examines some of the most gripping cases that captivated the Victorians and gave rise to the first detective fiction Murder in the nineteenth century was rare. But murder as sensation and entertainment became ubiquitous, with cold-blooded killings transformed into novels, broadsides, ballads, opera, and melodrama—even into puppet shows and performing dog-acts. Detective fiction and the new police force developed in parallel, each imitating the other—the founders of Scotland Yard gave rise to Dickens's Inspector Bucket, the first fictional police detective, who in turn influenced Sherlock Holmes and, ultimately, even P.D. James and Patricia Cornwell. In this meticulously researched and engrossing book, Judith Flanders retells the gruesome stories of many different types of murder, both famous and obscure: from Greenacre, who transported his dismembered fiancée around town by omnibus, to Burke and Hare’s bodysnatching business in Edinburgh; from the crimes (and myths) of Sweeney Todd and Jack the Ripper, to the tragedy of the murdered Marr family in London’s East End. Through these stories of murder—from the brutal to the pathetic—Flanders builds a rich and multi-faceted portrait of Victorian society in Great Britain.  With an irresistible cast of swindlers, forgers, and poisoners, the mad, the bad and the utterly dangerous, The Invention of Murder is both a mesmerizing tale of crime and punishment, and history at its most readable.


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In this fascinating exploration of murder in nineteenth century England, Judith Flanders examines some of the most gripping cases that captivated the Victorians and gave rise to the first detective fiction Murder in the nineteenth century was rare. But murder as sensation and entertainment became ubiquitous, with cold-blooded killings transformed into novels, broadsides, ba In this fascinating exploration of murder in nineteenth century England, Judith Flanders examines some of the most gripping cases that captivated the Victorians and gave rise to the first detective fiction Murder in the nineteenth century was rare. But murder as sensation and entertainment became ubiquitous, with cold-blooded killings transformed into novels, broadsides, ballads, opera, and melodrama—even into puppet shows and performing dog-acts. Detective fiction and the new police force developed in parallel, each imitating the other—the founders of Scotland Yard gave rise to Dickens's Inspector Bucket, the first fictional police detective, who in turn influenced Sherlock Holmes and, ultimately, even P.D. James and Patricia Cornwell. In this meticulously researched and engrossing book, Judith Flanders retells the gruesome stories of many different types of murder, both famous and obscure: from Greenacre, who transported his dismembered fiancée around town by omnibus, to Burke and Hare’s bodysnatching business in Edinburgh; from the crimes (and myths) of Sweeney Todd and Jack the Ripper, to the tragedy of the murdered Marr family in London’s East End. Through these stories of murder—from the brutal to the pathetic—Flanders builds a rich and multi-faceted portrait of Victorian society in Great Britain.  With an irresistible cast of swindlers, forgers, and poisoners, the mad, the bad and the utterly dangerous, The Invention of Murder is both a mesmerizing tale of crime and punishment, and history at its most readable.

30 review for The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bill Kerwin

    Judith Flanders, who demonstrates an extensive knowledge of 19th century English literature and popular culture, shows us how actual 19th Century murders, and their transmuted and distorted recreations in newspaper coverage, broadside ballads, working class drama and "penny-dreadful" fiction, helped both to reflect and to forge what today we think of as the necessary accoutrements of crime: the modern police force, the private detective, the forensic investigation. Further, she shows how these c Judith Flanders, who demonstrates an extensive knowledge of 19th century English literature and popular culture, shows us how actual 19th Century murders, and their transmuted and distorted recreations in newspaper coverage, broadside ballads, working class drama and "penny-dreadful" fiction, helped both to reflect and to forge what today we think of as the necessary accoutrements of crime: the modern police force, the private detective, the forensic investigation. Further, she shows how these crimes and their popular representations in turn influenced the portrayal of murder in the "literary" fiction of Bulwer-Lytton, Braddon, Collins, Dickens, Stevenson, and others. Flanders' accounts of the actual crimes--particularly the brutal, commonplace working class murders--are the least interesting parts of the book. Partly this is the fault of the crimes themselves, but it is also a defect of Flanders' narrative ability: she has difficulty in choosing the most telling details, and instead buries her story under a myriad of facts. On the other hand, when it comes to describing forms of popular entertainment--blood-and-thunder melodramas, dramatic readings of the "penny-bloods" for the illiterate, the festive atmosphere of a public hanging--Flanders' prose is evocative and impressive. (She is particularly good on murder by poison, and how such poisonings induced a "poison panic" in the 19th century mind out of proportion to the small numbers of proven crimes.) I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in either the Victorian period or in murder, and strongly recommend it to anyone interested in both.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    I’m a true crime buff, though I hesitate to admit this. At best it makes me creepy, the kind of person you warily back away from at parties, lest you get stuck in a corner. At worst it makes me a cop in the media-driven exploitation machine, which turns the tragic into spectacle, and whips private pain into a public frenzy. Of course, I’m not the only one. The media does not act in a vacuum. There wouldn’t be a constant stream of sensationalized crime stories if there wasn’t a large and avid aud I’m a true crime buff, though I hesitate to admit this. At best it makes me creepy, the kind of person you warily back away from at parties, lest you get stuck in a corner. At worst it makes me a cop in the media-driven exploitation machine, which turns the tragic into spectacle, and whips private pain into a public frenzy. Of course, I’m not the only one. The media does not act in a vacuum. There wouldn’t be a constant stream of sensationalized crime stories if there wasn’t a large and avid audience waiting to consume them. Like it or not, a lot of people are drawn to crime stories. I imagine this has been true since Cain took Abel to a field and murdered him. There’s nothing quite like a shocking murder to grip the public attention. (Saying things like this is why people always back away from me at parties!). In 1914, with Europe steamrolling towards war, the French – soon to be invaded and partially occupied – were focused on the scandalous murder trial of Madame Caillaux. In the last summer of an epoch, before Americans every really thought of terrorism, this country was held rapt by the disappearance of a Congressional intern. Crime sells because people have always been buying. And if I’m part of the problem, I’m not the only one. Just check out the local news, or the national news, or the cable stations devoted entirely to crime, or listen to Serial, or watch The Jinx. Where does this dread fascination come from? It’s a question I’ve often asked myself, after spending a hungover Saturday watching a Dateline ID marathon on TLC. According to Judith Flanders’s The Invention of Murder, it’s the Victorians! Her book, per the subtitle, is all about the ways the Victorians “reveled” in death and therefore “created modern crime.” Flanders doesn’t mean her title in the literal sense, obviously. Murder existed long before and has existed long after the Victorians. There’s a murder in Genesis, though the culprit was soon apprehended and marked for his crime. Rather, Flanders posits that the Victorian thirst for true crime tales “transformed” the 19th century and birthed the still-robust genre of true crime. Right off the bat, I didn't think much of this thesis. It entirely ignores a primitive, psychological fascination humans have always had with murder, and more specifically, with murderers. The notion that Victorians were the first to embrace this fascination also doesn’t sway me much. Just off the top of my head, the murder of Helen Jewett in 1836 comes to mind. That set off a public frenzy the year before Victoria ascended the throne. In 1842, Edgar Allan Poe wrote The Mystery of Marie Roget, a novel based on a true crime event. Flanders even mentions, several times in her book, how detective “memoirs” were big in France. Whether or not her argument holds up doesn’t really matter in the end, chiefly because Flanders does not bother arguing it. Instead, The Invention of Murder only does one thing: it takes you on a tour of the infamous crimes of the Victorian era. I use the word “tour” loosely. It’s really more of a list. The book is divided into chapters, but it needn’t have been. The chapter titles are meaningless, and don't have anything to do with the content contained therein. From beginning to end, everything repetition. It's a literary structure taken from the instructions on a bottle of shampoo. Only the names of the killers and the killed change. The pattern is as simple as it is tedious. Flanders introduces a crime: there is a murder; the killer is caught and tried and usually convicted. Then she lists all the ways that crime was publicized, whether it be in newspapers, poems, plays, or books. Most of this derivative media is stuff you've never heard of, so you're getting analysis on crappy contemporary art that is no longer part of the world. Once Flanders has done that, she jumps right into the next murder. This continues until you have slogged your way 466 pages of text. By the end, it’s all a sad, desperate blur, and even I found it pointless, which is saying something, since most of the things I most passionately engage in are pointless. I think it’s very important to note this format, because it will tell you right off whether you want to read this. If you are want a long litany of now-forgotten misdeeds, turned into long-forgotten books and plays, you might enjoy The Invention of Murder. If not – well, I warned you. The Invention of Murder is not without its minor pleasures. Some of the related stories are suitably what-the-fork that they can’t help but entertain in the morbid way that the best true crime stories do. Some tales are wonderfully off-the-wall, such as the trial of Abraham Thornton, who was initially cleared of the rape and murder of Mary Ashford: Thornton might have thought that was the end of the matter, but William Ashford, Mary’s brother, was pointed in the direction of an almost obsolete law, ‘appeal of murder’, which permitted a family member to appeal against a not-guilty verdict without double jeopardy being invoked. Thornton was arrested once more, but luckily for him, he had a very clever lawyer. When the appeal came to be heard, ‘when called upon to answer, whether guilty or not guilty’, Thornton read: ‘Not guilty: and I am ready to defend the same with my body.’ He took a pair of gauntlets, put one on, throwing the other on the floor in front of the bench for Ashford to take up, ‘in pursuance of an old form’. The prosecution was unprepared: ‘I must confess I am surprised…the trial by battle is an obsolete practice…it would appear to me extraordinary indeed, if the person who has murdered the sister would…be allowed to prove his innocence by murdering the brother also…’ stuttered his lawyer. The judge who was probably equally uncertain, replied feebly: ‘It is the law of England…we must not call it murder’. William Ashford did not care what it was called: he was only a boy, while Thornton was a vigorous, powerful man. Several more hearing were needed to deal with this legal remnant of feudalism in a modernizing world. Eventually it was agreed that the boy, ‘from his youth and want of bodily strength’, was legally incompetent to accept the challenge, so as a formality Thornton was re-arraigned, his lawyer entered a plea that he had already been tried and acquitted, and he was released a final time. This was the type of stuff of which I wanted more. I wanted to know more about the English court system; about the transformation of law enforcement from local constables to a modern, professional police force dedicated to solving crimes; and about how famous writers, such as Dickens and Hardy, threaded real-life crime into their memorable fiction. All these topics are touched upon, but never at any length or depth. Flanders is so intent upon her purpose that she does not allow any of these peripheral subjects a chance to breath. This type of thorough single-mindedness can be laudable, in its way. Flanders had an approach and she stuck to it. Unfortunately, in a book this size, it can also be wearying and exhausting.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Victoria (Eve's Alexandria)

    This was a impulsive Audible download when it first came out, and I've been doggedly listening to it in the mornings getting ready for work. Doggedly gives you a clue as it how I feel about it. There were times when I was incredibly close to defeat. Not because the subject isn't interesting but because the telling was very formulaic. First there is the outline plot of a seminal murder, followed by a discussion of how it impacted in popular media and culture. Quite often the latter becomes a mono This was a impulsive Audible download when it first came out, and I've been doggedly listening to it in the mornings getting ready for work. Doggedly gives you a clue as it how I feel about it. There were times when I was incredibly close to defeat. Not because the subject isn't interesting but because the telling was very formulaic. First there is the outline plot of a seminal murder, followed by a discussion of how it impacted in popular media and culture. Quite often the latter becomes a monotonous list of plays, broadsides, stories. Very good for illustrating a point in a PhD thesis perhaps but difficult to get exercised about as a lay reader. The repetition was probably exacerbated by the way I read the book in short 20 minute chunks. I also felt the core narrative or argument got lost amidst all case studies. In the end I was only slogging my way on until Jack the Ripper, knowing it would herald the end. The thing that kept me going was the excellent narrator.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    This book needs to go back to the editor. The chapters were too long and the thesis was lost or never quite articulated. I felt like I was reading a masters thesis and not a book for popular audience. The author used the same type of examples in many chapters. By the third or forth chapter, I could expect excepts from newspapers that where widely in accurate, example of plays produced on the cases examine, and a look at the penny novels, broadsides, and ballads produced for the masses. The quest This book needs to go back to the editor. The chapters were too long and the thesis was lost or never quite articulated. I felt like I was reading a masters thesis and not a book for popular audience. The author used the same type of examples in many chapters. By the third or forth chapter, I could expect excepts from newspapers that where widely in accurate, example of plays produced on the cases examine, and a look at the penny novels, broadsides, and ballads produced for the masses. The question in reading the book that was never answered is how did this invent murder and how was this different from the past or influence things today

  5. 5 out of 5

    Auntie Terror

    3.3 Stars While the narrator did a very good job in my opinion, this book just wasn't what I had expected it to be. It gives, I'd say, a good overview of "Britain's most (in)famous murder cases of the Victorian era" and, to some extent, points out the worrying weakness of the justice system in respect to social ranks and also points out where cases and scientific reality have influenced fiction. But it does the latter to much less of an extent than I'd hoped for. This isn't a bad audiobook. But it' 3.3 Stars While the narrator did a very good job in my opinion, this book just wasn't what I had expected it to be. It gives, I'd say, a good overview of "Britain's most (in)famous murder cases of the Victorian era" and, to some extent, points out the worrying weakness of the justice system in respect to social ranks and also points out where cases and scientific reality have influenced fiction. But it does the latter to much less of an extent than I'd hoped for. This isn't a bad audiobook. But it's more of a historic true crime podcast than a dive into the Victorian fixation with respectability and propriety and its fascination and desire for anything that wasn't that, really.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rose

    Although the title suggests otherwise, the Victorians did not invent murder. They were merely the first to make it profitable. As the eighteenth century morphed into the nineteenth, public discussion of homicide in Great Britain shifted from the pulpits to the press, inspiring stage dramas and best-selling ‘penny dreadfuls’. No one was immune to the allure: the nobility attended murder trials as faithfully as the working classes, executions were witnessed by stadium-sized crowds, and literary gia Although the title suggests otherwise, the Victorians did not invent murder. They were merely the first to make it profitable. As the eighteenth century morphed into the nineteenth, public discussion of homicide in Great Britain shifted from the pulpits to the press, inspiring stage dramas and best-selling ‘penny dreadfuls’. No one was immune to the allure: the nobility attended murder trials as faithfully as the working classes, executions were witnessed by stadium-sized crowds, and literary giants such as Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle let bloodshed inspire and infuse their stories. The Examiner had a dedicated column titled “Murders and Murderous Crimes”, which probably did wonders for its circulation. The Invention of Murder explains how violent death affected popular culture. Literature-wise, detective stories and ‘sensation novels’ were born, and the stage hosted blood-and-thunder melodramas. Racehorses and greyhounds were named after killers and their victims. Some slayings captured the public interest so strongly that the key players achieved icon status: the curious and the entrepreneurial eagerly bought items that once belonged to or were associated with an executed killer, and crime scenes turned into sightseeing destinations. You could even buy china figurines of famous murderers and their victims, as was the case with William Corder and Maria Marten of Red Barn fame. Not all of the crimes described and analyzed in this volume are famous. The Ripper murders, Burke and Hare, and Constance Kent are familiar to modern readers, but Eugene Aram, Eliza Fenning, and John Thurtell are not. That doesn’t make their stories less fascinating to revisit, especially since they inspired advancements in the police services and forensic science. Judith Flanders has an innate understanding of what makes a society tick, and uses that insight to explain why some murderers, like Eugene Aram, claimed only one victim but spawned a legacy of creative works while serial killers like Christiana Edmunds were forgotten soon after their trials concluded. These analyses give The Invention of Murder an essay-like tone in parts, which may perturb some readers who prefer content to be limited to the crimes themselves. It may not be light reading, but it’s definitely enlightening.

  7. 5 out of 5

    K.

    Trigger warnings: murder. Obviously. Also rape, gore and infanticide. Capital punishment. Dismemberment. It's like an episode of Criminal Minds up in here, but with Charles Dickens. IDEK what I'm saying any more. I stumbled across this not-so-little gem in one of the many bookshops I visited in London a few months back. And given that crime novels and the Victorian era are my jam, I bought it instantly because obvs. And then I put off reading it for months. Anywho. I've read it now. And it was l Trigger warnings: murder. Obviously. Also rape, gore and infanticide. Capital punishment. Dismemberment. It's like an episode of Criminal Minds up in here, but with Charles Dickens. IDEK what I'm saying any more. I stumbled across this not-so-little gem in one of the many bookshops I visited in London a few months back. And given that crime novels and the Victorian era are my jam, I bought it instantly because obvs. And then I put off reading it for months. Anywho. I've read it now. And it was long af, but pretty stinking great. It essentially works its way through the nineteenth century, discussing all the big cases. It covers everything you'd expect, from Burke and Hare to Jack the Ripper. And after detailing each particular case, Flanders discusses how the media reacted to the case, and then how authors and playwrights wrote those cases into fiction. And really, it's FASCINATING to see the way that newspapers and serialised novels - often of the sensational variety - shaped the general public's perception of murder, taking it from "Goodness, isn't that terrible?" to "OH MY GOD DID YOU HEAR THE LATEST ATROCIOUS THING THAT HAPPENED??". I loved seeing how both victims and perpetrators have ended up immortalised in some of the most well known stories of the nineteenth century, and how big a role Madame Tussaud's played in creating a fascination around murder and murderers. So yes, it's long. And occasionally I got some of the names confused, simply because there are So Many Names. But it was a really interesting look at how public perception can be swayed by the media and popular culture. Was that the lesson I was meant to take away from this book? IDK. But it's the lesson that I got.

  8. 5 out of 5

    K.J. Charles

    How much you enjoy this will depend entirely on your taste for Victorian murders and related social issues, Victorian pulp, and lit crit. These are some of my favourite things so I loved it. In particular the ineptitude and corruption of the entire judicial system is very well brought out, also the gross social misogyny and classism. Plus it directed me to Jerome K Jerome's hilarious Stage-Land. A nerd wallow. How much you enjoy this will depend entirely on your taste for Victorian murders and related social issues, Victorian pulp, and lit crit. These are some of my favourite things so I loved it. In particular the ineptitude and corruption of the entire judicial system is very well brought out, also the gross social misogyny and classism. Plus it directed me to Jerome K Jerome's hilarious Stage-Land. A nerd wallow.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Beata

    A very engaging non-fiction by Ms Flanders, who plunges deep into the Victorian times and provides us with details of a number of crimes committed in the 19th century, but not only. What I appreciate most about this book is that the author analyzes how the Victorians perceived crime and what their attitudes were towards the criminals. Also, Ms Flanders presents us with lots of information on how the crimes were reported in newspapers, which was especially attractive to me. A really interesting r A very engaging non-fiction by Ms Flanders, who plunges deep into the Victorian times and provides us with details of a number of crimes committed in the 19th century, but not only. What I appreciate most about this book is that the author analyzes how the Victorians perceived crime and what their attitudes were towards the criminals. Also, Ms Flanders presents us with lots of information on how the crimes were reported in newspapers, which was especially attractive to me. A really interesting read!

  10. 4 out of 5

    lisa

    Very dry. I tried to read the first 30 pages and got bored. I tried to skim the next 50 pages and got even more bored. I was excited to read this book but it was big let-down. Other books that are similar (but better) are The Beautiful Cigar Girl by Daniel Stashower, and The Suspicions of Mr. Which by Kate Summerscale.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Katie Long

    DNF 25%...what a disappointment. So far this has amounted to a laundry list of Victorian era murders and the fiction inspired by them.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Emma Sea

    The subtitle should be "how Victorians created modern sensationalist media," rather than crime. Enjoyable, but to some extent a lot of the book was the same theme over and over again: acusations of crimes used to reinforce class and gender divisions. I felt sad most of the time, reading about women and men long executed, who had clearly commited no crime, but had the weight of the Victorian legal system against them. This made it a slightly ponderous read. I think about half the length could have The subtitle should be "how Victorians created modern sensationalist media," rather than crime. Enjoyable, but to some extent a lot of the book was the same theme over and over again: acusations of crimes used to reinforce class and gender divisions. I felt sad most of the time, reading about women and men long executed, who had clearly commited no crime, but had the weight of the Victorian legal system against them. This made it a slightly ponderous read. I think about half the length could have been sacrificed to make the book twice as enjoyable. 2.5 stars, rounded up.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Disappointing. This book demonstrates that a lack of organization, discpline and analysis can wreck a seemingly intersting topic. The chapter designations were completely irrelevant, as every chapter followed the same pattern: description of some murders and their trial transcripts and then a summary of how the murder played out in pop culture. Long before Law and Order, entertainment was "ripped from the headlines." Disappointing. This book demonstrates that a lack of organization, discpline and analysis can wreck a seemingly intersting topic. The chapter designations were completely irrelevant, as every chapter followed the same pattern: description of some murders and their trial transcripts and then a summary of how the murder played out in pop culture. Long before Law and Order, entertainment was "ripped from the headlines."

  14. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    Well, sigh, I sure took my time getting this read. I read the first few chapters and then went on an eight-day trip in which I had no time to read. In the unlikely event that anyone was actually paying enough attention to notice, I wouldn’t blame them for assuming that I had died. Anyway, I finally got it done. This is a fascinatingly detailed account of famous crimes, mostly murders, that occurred in the eighteenth and nineteenth century and how they affected the public imagination. It talks abo Well, sigh, I sure took my time getting this read. I read the first few chapters and then went on an eight-day trip in which I had no time to read. In the unlikely event that anyone was actually paying enough attention to notice, I wouldn’t blame them for assuming that I had died. Anyway, I finally got it done. This is a fascinatingly detailed account of famous crimes, mostly murders, that occurred in the eighteenth and nineteenth century and how they affected the public imagination. It talks about the history of policing and punishment in nineteenth-century Britain as well as the history of how such things were depicted in fiction. It all starts with some horrible murders early on in the century and how they were depicted in stories and plays thus setting the stage for stories such as those about Sherlock Holmes and other more recent fictional detectives. It shows the evolution of attitudes toward crime and murder and how that eventually morphed into murder mysteries and police procedural, not to mention the modern-day thriller. I’m not much of a reader of that stuff myself, preferring to consume that kind of fiction through television, but it is fascinating how the attitudes of Victorian Britain shaped those genres, not just over there but in the rest of the world as well. I will say, though, that it does get a little repetitive. In the last part of the book, I found all the endless murders were starting to blend together in my mind. I think a shorter book might have been easier to handle. I like to think that I have a reasonably good attention span, but my love of social history was severely tested at times. Despite the fact that it dragged in places, I think reading this book was a fairly positive experience. If you’re into detective fiction and enjoy history, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy this one.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    This book took some reading but I am glad that I did. It was given me a lot to think about and given me some interesting new perspectives. So in no particular order (just what comes to mind) is that the idea of the the popular press conducting its own trials (by both popular opinion and that of the editors and owners of the paper) often before but more often during the court case is far from new. In fact the level of scandalous and incredulous behaviour these papers and publications went to is as This book took some reading but I am glad that I did. It was given me a lot to think about and given me some interesting new perspectives. So in no particular order (just what comes to mind) is that the idea of the the popular press conducting its own trials (by both popular opinion and that of the editors and owners of the paper) often before but more often during the court case is far from new. In fact the level of scandalous and incredulous behaviour these papers and publications went to is astounding by modern journalistic standards. Next I knew that quite a few books of that time were written on the back of social influences and situations - Dickens being the prime source of this use of fiction. What I didnt realise was the amount of literature printed (from the penny bloods - precursors to the Penny Dreadfuls) all the way up to the classics such as the Moonstone were directly influenced by scandals and high profile murder cases. Now one thing I did feel was that the author of this book was perhaps took a little too critical view of these influences almost to the point of stating it was some form of exploitation. However in a world where news was limited by both geographical accessibility but also by personal choice, I guess where someone took their inspiration from was also directed to what was going around them. That said I am not sure about our own current state. Yes we do not hang on every murder case going - turning them in to the latest best sellers or films. We would rather it seem spend our hours discussing someones hair style or plastic surgery - now is this is a good thing or have we become bored with murder and we now need something else to entertain us. However I do agree with the conclusion to the book that through the years how society handled murder cases has changed, from the handling of evidence and how the fledgling police force conducted itself to how the courts (and their officials) came to their various conclusions has always been under public scrutiny. This has had a two fold effect. The legal system and the process of detection have evolved (I would like to think for the better) and that the crime of murder has been turned in to a business.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sally Kilpatrick

    Lots of great information here, but it was slow going at times. I think I would preferred more about the crimes and less about each and every book and stage adaptation.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    This is one of those books that you read that gives you lists of more books to read. Flanders’ book is an analysis of how Victorian Society viewed murdered, as mostly seen in the literature (both high and low) of the time as well as in the media. She traces not only the rimes but the impact. It’s a pretty compelling read not only for the information it contains about the books of the time. Among other things she traces the development of infanticide as a crime, linking the change in law to the c This is one of those books that you read that gives you lists of more books to read. Flanders’ book is an analysis of how Victorian Society viewed murdered, as mostly seen in the literature (both high and low) of the time as well as in the media. She traces not only the rimes but the impact. It’s a pretty compelling read not only for the information it contains about the books of the time. Among other things she traces the development of infanticide as a crime, linking the change in law to the changing view of women. She raises some interesting points about class and gender as well as the purpose of confession. It’s the type of book where you keep taking notes.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Karin

    Wow, what a book. Beginning with the brutal murder of the Marr family in 1811, this book takes us though crimes real and fictional, through the sentimentalization of Murder in the nineteenth century. Conviction by circumstantial evidence, a morbid fascination for hangings by the public, the rise of murder as a big subject in fiction, both on the stage and in novels. Many of these novels were based on real crimes or alluded to them. I had no idea that Oliver Twist's last name was an underworld sl Wow, what a book. Beginning with the brutal murder of the Marr family in 1811, this book takes us though crimes real and fictional, through the sentimentalization of Murder in the nineteenth century. Conviction by circumstantial evidence, a morbid fascination for hangings by the public, the rise of murder as a big subject in fiction, both on the stage and in novels. Many of these novels were based on real crimes or alluded to them. I had no idea that Oliver Twist's last name was an underworld slang term for hanging. We also see the development of more centralized police forces, early forensics and trial by newspaper. This book is riveting, I suppose, but macabre, so for me, 3 stars.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    Historically detailed in 100's of references, copy, drawings from the Victorian era in England. Piece by piece police components forged into recognizable units while murder cases became highlighted in skits, songs, broadsheets and other various tavern entertainments. Even death by execution could become a type of celebrity fodder. Murder was more scarce than in the 100 years after. Most of these are case to case histories in different situational examples of finding clear evidence as well. Interes Historically detailed in 100's of references, copy, drawings from the Victorian era in England. Piece by piece police components forged into recognizable units while murder cases became highlighted in skits, songs, broadsheets and other various tavern entertainments. Even death by execution could become a type of celebrity fodder. Murder was more scarce than in the 100 years after. Most of these are case to case histories in different situational examples of finding clear evidence as well. Interesting to see clearly here how the who dun it become recognized as a form and how it became finely developed by the time of a Sherlock Holmes. It might be wise to understand that there is little in the copy of the era that is in any way PC proof. Be warned if past cultural slang offends you. Much of this is original dated example referenced.

  20. 5 out of 5

    A C

    I'm not going to rate this, simply because I have no idea how to rate it lmao. So this was really informative and interesting, and I learned a lot about murder in the Victorian ages. It was actually a really neat read, and I'm glad I read it. I recommend it for anyone who's curious about crime and penny dreadfuls and such in Victorian times. I'm not going to rate this, simply because I have no idea how to rate it lmao. So this was really informative and interesting, and I learned a lot about murder in the Victorian ages. It was actually a really neat read, and I'm glad I read it. I recommend it for anyone who's curious about crime and penny dreadfuls and such in Victorian times.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Addison

    Ignore the pretentious title (and the doubly pretentious sub-title): nowhere in her argument does Flanders claim that the Victorians "invented" murder, nor that they "created modern crime." The Invention of Murder is half an overview of the famous murders of the nineteenth century in England, from the Ratcliffe Highway murders (The Maul And The Pear Tree) to Jack the Ripper (The Complete History of Jack the Ripper). (Although, oddly, Charles Bravo (Death at the Priory: Love, Sex, and Murder in V Ignore the pretentious title (and the doubly pretentious sub-title): nowhere in her argument does Flanders claim that the Victorians "invented" murder, nor that they "created modern crime." The Invention of Murder is half an overview of the famous murders of the nineteenth century in England, from the Ratcliffe Highway murders (The Maul And The Pear Tree) to Jack the Ripper (The Complete History of Jack the Ripper). (Although, oddly, Charles Bravo (Death at the Priory: Love, Sex, and Murder in Victorian England) is nowhere to be found.) The other half is an exhaustive teasing out of what happened to those murders (those murderers and those victims) as they were swallowed by the increasingly insatiable maw of Victorian print culture, and the particular ways in which they were fictionalized. Broadsides, pamphlets, newspapers, penny-bloods (later called penny-dreadfuls), novels, plays, puppet shows, waxwork exhibits; she even notes racehorces and greyhounds named for murderers. She also follows the unfolding of detective fiction as a genre and the development of the institution of the police. And if nothing else will convince you of the inadvisability of time travel, the utterly horrific standards of justice in nineteenth-century England should do the trick. This is a very good book, very well-written, very entertaining. If you're interested at all in the process by which fact becomes fiction, it is endlessly fascinating. In the cases where I know enough to tell, she seems to have her facts straight. (She gets some details wrong about Jack the Ripper, but everybody gets some details wrong about Jack the Ripper, and it's mean to cavil.) I inevitably disagree with some points of her interpretation, but nothing that really gets in the way. This is not a true-crime book. Flanders pays attention to the victims and the murderers (and the victims of legal murder), but she's interested more in the cultural transmission of their stories than she is in trying to uncover the truth (or "truth," if you're feeling particularly skeptical today) about the murder of Francis Saville Kent (The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective), for instance, or Adelaide Bartlett's husband*, or the Marrs and the Williamsons back in 1811. The historiography of murder, rather than the history. --- *Frederick Bartlett died from swallowing liquid chloroform. The general consensus is his wife murdered him, but nobody knows how the hell she got him to swallow the stuff.

  22. 5 out of 5

    ☕Laura

    I really enjoyed this book detailing various murders during the Victorian period and how they were reflected in the media of the day. It was interesting to read about the evolution of public attitudes towards violent crime and the concurrent changes in media, from the penny dreadfuls of the early 1800s through the emergence of true detective fiction. I would be interested to read an analogous work following the trends through the 20th century. One warning I will issue is that if you are planning I really enjoyed this book detailing various murders during the Victorian period and how they were reflected in the media of the day. It was interesting to read about the evolution of public attitudes towards violent crime and the concurrent changes in media, from the penny dreadfuls of the early 1800s through the emergence of true detective fiction. I would be interested to read an analogous work following the trends through the 20th century. One warning I will issue is that if you are planning to read any Victorian era mysteries such as The Woman in White, The Moonstone or many others, this book is rife with spoilers, so reader beware.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rose

    Very detailed book about a fascinating period in England. I wish to read it again because it was so fascinating and the level of research and information presented takes diligence to absorb thoroughly.

  24. 5 out of 5

    F.R.

    MRS FLANDERS’ new book cat’logues the notorious rogues and vill’ans of the great VICTORIAN AGE. Recoil at such fiendish devil’ry as that committed by MESSRS BURKE & HARE, WAINEWRIGHT and the remorseless poisoner PALMER. Witness again the lamentable and notorious crimes of the sin-ful women, MADELINE SMITH and ELIZA FENNING. Embark on a colour-ful and sensational tour of BRUTALITY and EVIL, culminating in the most cruel and vicious MURDERER of the AGE, the unspeakable JACK THE RIPPER! (I do like t MRS FLANDERS’ new book cat’logues the notorious rogues and vill’ans of the great VICTORIAN AGE. Recoil at such fiendish devil’ry as that committed by MESSRS BURKE & HARE, WAINEWRIGHT and the remorseless poisoner PALMER. Witness again the lamentable and notorious crimes of the sin-ful women, MADELINE SMITH and ELIZA FENNING. Embark on a colour-ful and sensational tour of BRUTALITY and EVIL, culminating in the most cruel and vicious MURDERER of the AGE, the unspeakable JACK THE RIPPER! (I do like those old Victorian adverts). ‘The Invention of Murder’ details the great crimes of the nineteenth century, particularly those which really caught the public’s imagination. Each case builds on the last, showing how they fed into news, plays, print and even puppet shows – and led to the rise to the detective fiction (even as the most famous murderer of the day proved to be undetectable). It’s probably a book to dip into rather than read in one sitting: as even if you have a penchant for gruesome stuff then A killing B, before C gets rid of D, and E really does do a number on F, does get a bit repetitive and tiresome after a while. The point of it all is that the increasing frequency of murder led to its greater – and more sensational – representation in the media, which then fed into a desire for the police (and, in particular, the detective force) to become more organised and efficient. But is that really the case? The crimes depicted don’t alter that much in terms of brutality (the murder which opens this book is pretty bloody vicious), and besides the nature of progress means that the representation of crime (and detection methods themselves) was always going to change. One does not necessarily feed directly into the other. If we look at the subsequent century, how much relation to real crime did Agatha Christie ever have? Still this is an entertaining guide for those of a certain mindset. It’s gory history, but just think – the brutal and vicious acts depicted within, really did quicken the pulse-rates of our great, great, great grandparents.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Shauna

    This book is incredibly well-researched, which is both a positive and a negative. On one side, the amount of information made for lots of gory details, which certainly satisfied my curiosity. But on the other, the book was bogged down in detail. I don't need to know the plot of every single stage adaptation based on a murder, nor do I need to know what critics said about these adaptations. There were a few times when the author teased us with something interesting, only to delve into another topi This book is incredibly well-researched, which is both a positive and a negative. On one side, the amount of information made for lots of gory details, which certainly satisfied my curiosity. But on the other, the book was bogged down in detail. I don't need to know the plot of every single stage adaptation based on a murder, nor do I need to know what critics said about these adaptations. There were a few times when the author teased us with something interesting, only to delve into another topic for a while. She mentions Jack the Ripper at the start of the last chapter--but then she decides that while she's on the topic, she may as well discuss the murder that preceded Jack's for nine pages. Which doesn't seem that long, but it certainly feels like it when you're expecting Jack the Ripper. Or, she would recount murders that supported a particular thesis or had a certain outcome in common and then, for no reason at all, would go, "And here's one that's not like the others!" and go into detail about that murder for a while. Why? So much of this could have been relegated to end notes if not cut out entirely, and I wish this book had had a stricter editor. However, I did like the little flashes of Flanders' sense of humor, like when the police say they are taking "extra precautions" in light of a string of murders by responding any time they heard a cry of "Help," "Murder," or "Police," and she adds, "(What, one wonders, had their instructions been before?)". If this book had a little less detail and a little more of the author's sass, it would be perfect. As it stands, I'm glad I read this book--but I'm also glad to be done with it at last.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kevin McAllister

    You'd think a book titled The invention of Murder couldn't be boring.Sadly, that wasn't the case with this book. The author discussed over 50 murders that took place during 19th century Great Britain. And while the descriptions of the murders themselves were interesting, it was the repetitive way the author then went on to describe how these murders were covered by newspapers, and then turned into works of fiction or plays. We were given, again and again. brief summaries of numerous books and pl You'd think a book titled The invention of Murder couldn't be boring.Sadly, that wasn't the case with this book. The author discussed over 50 murders that took place during 19th century Great Britain. And while the descriptions of the murders themselves were interesting, it was the repetitive way the author then went on to describe how these murders were covered by newspapers, and then turned into works of fiction or plays. We were given, again and again. brief summaries of numerous books and plays. Frankly, these endless plot summaries bored me senseless . I almost never stop reading a book before finishing it, this one really tempted me, but I finally made it to the end.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lori Rader-Day

    A big-un. Took a lot of pre-bedtime reading sessions to get this one done. Lots of great info, though.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Tim Pendry

    This is a solid work of history that looks at how crimes were interpreted in popular culture and then used in literature to create our modern fascination with violence and detection in the era between the Ratcliffe Highway Murders (1811) and the Jack the Ripper phenomenon at century's end. Flanders adopts a somewhat pedestrian approach in which the crime is summarised, the popular response to the crime outlined and reference made to its influence on literature, with side comments on contemporary This is a solid work of history that looks at how crimes were interpreted in popular culture and then used in literature to create our modern fascination with violence and detection in the era between the Ratcliffe Highway Murders (1811) and the Jack the Ripper phenomenon at century's end. Flanders adopts a somewhat pedestrian approach in which the crime is summarised, the popular response to the crime outlined and reference made to its influence on literature, with side comments on contemporary policing and changes in cultural attitudes to perpetrator and victim. As a compendium, it is very useful, almost encyclopedic, but as analysis, it is frustrating - partly because the amount of interpretation is actually quite limited. We are left with a great deal of data over 466 pages with voluminous foot notes but it comes across as something closer to a catalogue. If the message is a simple one that the crime fiction that emerged in the twentieth century had a history in the nineteenth century, then it does its job well. This collection of crimes and socio-cultural responses to crime is not more than that in itself but this does not make it less useful. Tribute has be paid to Flanders' very diligent engagement with the archives and with the detail of what she describes. She is a very fine researcher and historian. You find yourself trusting her judgements accordingly. As such, this is a valuable addition to the cultural history of the Victorians. However, because of the way it is written, we have to draw our own conclusions on what we can learn from the book. What I learned most of all was that Victorian society was not so very different from ours in its taste for quick judgements, outrage and celebrity culture. It also reminded me that the law is not justice and that senior figures in any establishment cannot be presumed to be capable of critical thinking or to be remarkably intelligent in their own right. It confirms my picture of society blundering forwards, improved by technology rather than nature. There are one or two heartbreaking tales of injustice but also some corrective to the idea that Victorian society was intrinsically brutal. What does come across is a callousness at times but, honestly, not much different from that in our own times if we look hard enough. Indeed, the very low murder rates at the beginning of the period are quite surprising and not (in my opinion) to be put down simply to the death penalty. This is where we could do with more analysis about why the criminological situation in the Victorian period was as it was. But that is not this book. This book is probably more useful to literary and cultural types wanting background to works they know and love and insights into a lost popular culture, much of which was not recorded as ephemeral. Flanders' detective work here is exemplary. It is not as if the emergence of television has created 'shows' about 'reality' out of the blue. The world before these media had a range of outlets for working class tastes based on the technology of the day - printed ephemera, street singers, instant playlets in sheds, touring shows and so forth. These too had their standard formats (much as popular TV does today) expressed in such cultural inventions as the 'last confession' (often invented) or the entire melodramatic style of theatre which we may laugh at now but which had its rules no less than Kabuki or No drama. Melodrama's form may be predictable and unrelated to reality but its performances could take real events in the world, notably heinous crimes, and interpret them as uncomplicated moral dramas where the skill lay in the application of the melodramatic style to reinterpreted facts. This is not really so far from a lot of apparently more sophisticated BBC Drama today which may not be melodramatic but is not afraid of giving the population what they want (or what the BBC thinks they should want) in terms of moral and cultural outcomes within fixed forms. What really strikes the reader perhaps is just how much ostensible 'fact' about criminal activity was invented. To the extent that one soon realises that the facts in legal and police responses to a crime often seemed to be less important than imputing some meaning or resolution to them. The book is about the sustained invention of narrative not only in popular culture but in the news industry as it transformed itself from instant broadside pamphlets in the early part of the century to be sold at mass attendances of hangings through to the era of Harmsworth and W T Stead. The sheer amount of lies and invention in the latter in order to drive circulation figures and the concentration on false and shifting narratives would be shocking if were not living through (as I write this) the 2019 UK General Election where much the same still goes on. Of course, broadcast journalists cannot quite get away with the lies they did then and there are legally enforceable rules in court cases now but the drive for a narrative regardless of reality and a lack of interest in the complexity of any situation means that journalists are still just story tellers. Just as law should not be confused with justice but only as a clumsy attempt to do the best to approximate one with the other, so news organisation should not be confused with truth telling even if there is the same clumsy attempt to approximate the two. Lawyers and journalists are sincere enough in their drive to maintain the law and tell the truth as they see it but the structures of their 'industries' prioritise things in such a way that it will always be an approximation - the law can be an ass and a story is not always the truth. Flanders' book (though she does not state this) is probably most useful in giving us some of the early history of a process by which middle class professionals emerge with aproximations of the 'good' which are still flawed because of the structures required to maintain status and income. The usual (and not stupid) response of many Victorian intellectuals and artists - such as, say, the Pre-Raphaelites - was to ask the middle classes to be 'more Christian'. Dickens' art was to falsify into some sort of truth in terms of moral good. But all this is still story telling. A similar tale might be told of doctors. More might be said about law enforcers or politicians or civil servants. What we have is the slow paradoxical dialectic in which the professionalisation of society simultaneously improves 'approximation' yet makes a detachment from the 'good' structural. Perhaps this book confirms us in the view that the more things change (and they do change considerably over the period), the more some things stay the same, notably the wider public hunger for sensation regardless of reality and the inability of the middle classes ever to be truly good. Anyone interested in Victorian literature should definitely read this book because it is there that it is probably most consistently creative and informative. Above all, Flanders gives us useful sourcing for some themes in major works of the period and neatly weakens many claims of being 'firsts'. 'Nothing can come out of nothing' and some of our most significant works of literature related to crime and detection have precursors and influencers that are best acknowledged without in any way diminishing the achievements of such great writers as Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle. Flanders also raises many doubts about the reliability of accounts of real crimes. Law enforcers themselves are unreliable witnesses. Legal counsel could often be less than competent. Newspapers, as we have noted, never feared to invents facts or make accusatory claims if it sold copies. The whole period looks like a fantastic miasma of myth-making and half-truths, rarely designed to provide justice for the individuals involved in the crime, whether alleged perpetrator or undoubted victims and their dependants, and much more a form of social performance art. One of the more 'shocking' aspects of the period is the competition to buy up the possessions of the murdered and the murderer so that often the person who uncovered a crime went unrewarded and the acquitted but villainous perpetrator could do quite nicely, thank you. Flanders also points out, without trying to make political points, that class was a significant element in how crimes were treated although the bias appears to be cultural and unconscious rather than 'ancien regime'. Saddest are the cases of the poor not being able to afford defence counsel and being sentenced to hang on weak circumstantial evidence that a middle class counsel would easily have deal with although the point is also made that there was a gender bias against men when it came to hanging. The attitude to infants also appears callous although can we say it is worse in the age of wide acceptance of abortion. A dead baby was often overlooked and the mid-Victorian baby farm scandal shocks us today as we should be shocked by systematic institutional child abuse today. Has anything changed much? We have already suggested not. The circus around Prince Andrew at the moment is simply a variant of the earlier circus around Princess Diana in the context of a Netflix TV series about the Royal Family. Our media still engages in a game of shock and outrage. As to law enforcement's inability to see the wood for the trees in order to meet the needs of popular sentiment, I suggest the superb Netflix documentary on the 'confession killer' where the famed Texas Rangers found themselves stuck in a narrative that made them look like fools in the end. Narrative as prior to truth - story as prior to reality - is embedded evolutionarily into ourselves as a species and is merely magnified by communications technology. We should be under no illusions that our ramshackle professional structures are still doing no more than holding things together. And that is why we owe some debt of gratitude to Flanders. She has laboured mightily to provide the data. It is for us to continue the job of interpretation.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Clare

    Not too long ago, I went into Porter Square Books with the intention of not necessarily buying any books (I was there for an Event and I was very, very broke), but then I saw a book that called to me, and seemed to have been written for the express purpose of tempting me into buying it no matter how much I couldn’t afford to. It was even in hardcover! A beautiful, creepy black hardcover. The book was The Invention of Murder How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Cri Not too long ago, I went into Porter Square Books with the intention of not necessarily buying any books (I was there for an Event and I was very, very broke), but then I saw a book that called to me, and seemed to have been written for the express purpose of tempting me into buying it no matter how much I couldn’t afford to. It was even in hardcover! A beautiful, creepy black hardcover. The book was The Invention of Murder How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime, by Judith Flanders. The subtitle is a little misleading as it makes the book sound like it has a stronger thesis than it really does; it’s not really arguing a point so much as dumping lots of fun information on the reader. The book covers about fifty murders that took place in the UK in the nineteenth century. For each one, it describes the murder, gives some historical background about how it fits into general fears of the time or trends in murders (poison panic, burial-club panic, etc.), then discusses how the murder was dealt with in the, um, ‘nonfiction’ press, and lastly discusses instances in which the murder shows up in nineteenth century fiction. There is also some discussion of the development of the police, and particularly detectives, as a professional and cultural institution. The book’s thesis, essentially, is just that the Victorians were SUPER INTO murder, and that the ways in which they were SUPER INTO murder laid the groundwork for modern crime entertainment like murder mystery novels and TV procedurals. I, for one, am willing to accept this argument as being pretty well supported. I was already familiar with some of the issues discussed here; I had the good fortune to do a short unit on “sensation novels” in undergrad as part of a nineteenth-century British novel course, and a few years ago I read an excellent, in-depth book about the Road Hill House murder and early Scotland Yard, Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective. I also remember gawking over the Jack the Ripper crime scene photos at CrimeLibrary like a proper little babybat sometime in high school. This book introduced me to so many more murders, though, including some really weird ones. I found it fascinating to compare which murders caught the public’s imagination, and which ones didn’t, even when it seemed like they should have—and I was particularly interested to see how the ones that did get turned into entertainment for mass consumption got written and rewritten, with the victims or, sometimes, the murderers getting cleaned up to be more sympathetic, class and political attitudes grafted on to the “narratives”, sometimes narratives being created nearly out of whole cloth from a handful of sensational details (Jack the Ripper may be the most egregious offender in this category), newspapers picking this side or that—the victim, the murderer, the detectives, the family, the press itself. For me, most of the fun in this book comes from the excerpts of plays, newspaper articles, interviews, etc., particularly the really trashy ones. Trashy Victoriana is very, very trashy; in many cases, it is also quaint and badly spelled. Awkwardly scanned verse abounds (“We beat him dreadfully upon the floor,/We washed our hands in his crimson gore” –from a broadside reporting on murderess Maria Manning). There are a lot of awkward Victorian line drawings of dismemberments and public executions, which have to be seen to be believed. Judith Flanders has an excellent talent for summarizing penny-blood and melodrama plots in a sort of snarkily affectionate tone that makes me really want to read these pieces even though they are clearly laughably dreadful. (I am sure this is partly because I am the sort of person who just purchased a copy of Varney the Vampire.) Flanders is a social historian, and the weird historical tidbits she gives us paints a great picture of just how weird the Victorian era was—excerpts from Punch & Judy shows, magazine advertisements for arsenic soap, and the solidly shameless behavior of the highly respected Madame Tussaud’s waxworks company, who never met a piece of murder memorabilia they didn’t try to buy. I finished this book kind of wishing I could time-travel to the Victorian era but also being really glad I don’t live there, which is just as it should be. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in weird history or Gothic fiction. Originally posted at http://bloodygranuaile.livejournal.co....

  30. 5 out of 5

    Colin Garrow

    With its subtitle – ‘How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime’, this book traces the British public’s interest in murder as a sort of national entertainment. Though the book’s title clearly suggests we’re talking about the Victorian period (1837-1901), Ms Flanders begins her romp through the gory annals of homicide in 1811, with the Ratcliffe Highway killings, where two families were slaughtered (supposedly) by one John Williams. Illustrating her research with With its subtitle – ‘How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime’, this book traces the British public’s interest in murder as a sort of national entertainment. Though the book’s title clearly suggests we’re talking about the Victorian period (1837-1901), Ms Flanders begins her romp through the gory annals of homicide in 1811, with the Ratcliffe Highway killings, where two families were slaughtered (supposedly) by one John Williams. Illustrating her research with innumerable murders, the author charts the development of the crime through the media of the time – newspapers, broadsheets, on stage and even in ceramic likenesses of the killers, showing how murderers, and the police officers who caught them, caught the imagination of the whole country. Being a bit of a connoisseur of Victorian crime, I bought both the audio and paperback versions of this book. I was familiar with many of the cases, and as well as the usual suspects (Burke and Hare, The Mannings, William Corder et al) there were several I hadn’t come across before. Flanders also explores how police investigations changed over the period and the ways in which newspapers and journalists contributed to the guilt (or innocence) of the accused. The author’s meticulous research shows on every page. Many murders prompted what might be termed fanfiction, and Victorian novelists began to copy the plots of certain killers or created their own detective heroes whose exploits often mirrored that of their real-life counterparts. My only criticism of the book would be that some examples of these dragged on a little too long, with too many accounts of poems, songs and theatre scripts that didn’t add much to the book as a whole. Also, I thought the inclusion of Jack the Ripper (although clearly carried out by a Victorian murderer) didn’t bring anything new to the table and a mere mention in passing would have sufficed. As a social history of murder and its effects on the British public, this is an exciting and enthralling addition to the true-crime library.

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