Newest Review: ... looks at them alongside Victorian culture, entertainment and the press. The book seems to pose the question: which came first, the murderer... more
you will get weird looks while reading this
The Invention of Murder - Judith Flanders
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The Invention of Murder - Judith Flanders
Date: 14/05/13, updated on 14/05/13 (21 review reads)
Advantages: fascinating read!
Disadvantages: not for everyone - pretty graphic
I saw this in Waterstones and as somebody who is extremely interested in criminal law and criminology, well, I couldn't leave it. Throughout the book Judith Flanders looks into both famous, such as Jack the Ripper, and more obscure murderers such as Adelaide Bartlett, deemed a 'middle class poisoner'. As morbid as it sounds, it is a great read mainly for the fact that she describes these people's backgrounds, their motives, their murders and the consequences in great detail. I would say, however, that, since one of the reasons I bought this book was to learn more about Jack the Ripper from a reputable source, I was disappointed that such a small portion of the book was dedicated to them. Considering they were one of Britain's most notorious serial killers I was hoping for more information.
She also conveys the stories of these people with an interesting twist, in that she looks at them alongside Victorian culture, entertainment and the press. The book seems to pose the question: which came first, the murderer or the novel. I thought that this was one the best parts of the book; to see excerpts and plot outlines of penny-bloods, poems, novels etc all based on the 'popular' crimes of the time. I use the word popular because, as outlined in this book, Victorian culture was obsessed with murder as much as ours is obsessed with celebrity: Madame Tussands wasn't always waxworks of footballers.
The book is split into sections: Imagining Murder, Trial by Newspaper, Entertaining Murder, Policing Murder, Panic, Middle-Class Poisoners, Science, Technology and Law, Violence and Modernity - and focuses on each topic while looking through the whole of the 19th Century. I have to say I found the Policing Murder section fascinating as it talked about the history of the police force and how it developed over time to become what it is today. I would say that the only chapter that dragged a bit for me was Middle-Class Poisoners, since it was around 70 pages long, and also since there wasn't much variety in how the crimes were committed. It was still interesting though.
As a massive Sherlock Holmes fan I was excited to read about Authur Conan Doyle's inspiration for the character and also some of the murders the stories were inspired by: if you're a fan, you'll enjoy these little asides. An overarching theme throughout the book is the birth of detection and the detective as a character in a novel. Also, throughout the book there's plenty of pictures, including two sections of in colour photographs at thirds, which I feel added to the appeal of the book and made it more interesting to read than if it were just 500 pages of words.
It costs around £7 for the paperback and £6.50 for the e-book version in Waterstones: at 500 pages it is well worth the money. The length and content of the book also means that it isn't a light-hearted read: this isn't a book to dip in and out of due to the detail put into researching each of these people and their crimes. You can hardly read it from cover to cover in one sitting but it is an engrossing read, and the way that Judith Flanders links all of the murderers together makes you want to read on. Also, her tone throughout the book is chatty and funny, which for the subject matter, really makes it easier to read. For someone who enjoys reading about this sort of thing, even I can get a bit freaked out by what these people did.
Yes, I did get a few funny looks while reading this, possibly due to the front cover with the word 'murder' on it in massive red letters. This aside, it is a great and interesting read that takes an in depth journey through the invention of murder as an art form in Victorian society, along with its theme throughout of analysing the trends in society in regards to murder in literature and in the press.
Summary: if you're interested in the history of crime or just the victorian era this is a great book
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