2013: The Invention of Murder 

""Pleasant it is, no doubt, to drink tea with your sweetheart, but most disagreeable to find her bubbling in the tea-urn."

The Invention of Murder, Judith Flanders 

     I was so disappointed by this book.  It should have been one of my favorite books of the year, combining my interests in old fashioned historical true crime and my love of Judith Flanders.  Flanders is the historian who wrote Inside the Victorian Home, a truly wonderful book that explains what life what really like during Victorian time (especially for women) - what needed to be done to keep the home going.  It was one of my favorite books of 2007, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to either understand classic novels better, or be reassured that we are living in the best of all times (no matter how pretty the dresses were, ladies, we are way better off with washing machines and voting rights).  After that I read her Circle of Sisters, about four sisters who ended up being pretty amazingly involved in British history (one was married to Augustus Burne-Jones, one was Rudyard Kipling's mother, one was Stanley Baldwin's mother), and quite enjoyed that, too.  So I thought for sure that the author who brought the Victorians to life would have something great to say about murder - and how it became entertainment for the masses during the Victorian era.

     Except the book doesn't really do that - instead, it just goes through a series of famous murders - some of which a true crime reader will know (the maul and the pear tree, Madeline Smith, Constance Kent), some of which are somewhat obscure.  She is very interested in telling us which murders captured popular attention in the form of broadsheets, plays, and folk tales, but doesn't really tie a bow on the whole thing - you aren't left with any understanding of why the Victorians were interested in murder, or whether this led to the invention of the detective story or really anything.  It's as well written as all her books, and I would still read whatever she writes (it looks on her website that she has written a book about the Victorian city, which, if it is half as good as the book on the Victorian home should be a must-read).  But when I compare this book to, say, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, which told a true crime story and also put in the context of the growth of the police force, and the role of women in society and all sorts of things, I was disappointed.  I expected this to knock my socks off, and it was just ok.  Read Whicher instead.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017