MLA Gold Award Site

Excerpt from The Invention of Murder by Judith Flanders, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Invention of Murder

How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime

by Judith Flanders

The Invention of Murder
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jul 2013, 576 pages
    Jul 2014, 576 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Judi Sauerbrey

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

The answer was that this 'honourable profession' was shrouded in mystery, and what people did know of it, they despised, the prevailing mental image being not a law-enforcer, but more a law-breaker: the eighteenth-century thief-taker, the criminal turncoat. That was about to change, partly through the publication of the memoirs of the French detective Eugène Vidocq (1775–1857). Vidocq had started his career as a not terribly successful criminal. After a number of convictions, he became a police spy, or informer, working secretly for the government while still in prison. In 1811 he was one of four ex-convicts to be made a detective, and in 1812 he became the head of the newly created Brigade de Sûreté, with thirty men under his command. None of this would have been of more than passing interest in Britain, had it not been for his Mémoires, which in translation swiftly became a best-seller.

It is almost certain that Vidocq did not write his own Memoirs. Nor can they truly be called biography. The last two volumes borrow wildly from a variety of sources, including a short story previously published by one of his ghost writers, while entire passages are blatantly lifted from The Police of London, a work of policy reform by Patrick Colquhoun, with French place names substituted for Colquhoun's original English ones. Nonetheless, the Memoirs were brilliant PR, with Vidocq transformed from an old-style thief-taker to a sympathetic outlaw, and then to a new thing altogether – both in literature and in life – a detective, although what he described barely resembled what was later to be known as detection (and it would be another twenty years before the word itself was invented). For the moment, Vidocq merely intensified the spy system of the Revolution, keeping extensive records on known criminals and paying informants. Mostly in the Memoirs he disguises himself and hangs about in low haunts in order to overhear criminals plotting, or just bribes someone to tell him about a planned crime, which he then foils.

Vidocq's Memoirs found a ready audience, and, more importantly for popular recognition, in 1829 they were adapted in two theatrical versions: at the Coburg Theatre, as Vidocq, the French Police Spy, by J.B. Buckstone; and, just down the road from the Coburg, at the Surrey, in Douglas Jerrold's rival version, with only an exclamation point's difference: Vidocq! the French Police Spy. That year the words 'police spy' had particular resonance, as Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel finally managed to finesse through Parliament the Act that created the Metropolitan Police, replacing the old parish watch system and creating what has been called the first professional police force.* Three decades earlier, Colquhoun had written, 'Police in this country may be considered as a new science, the properties of which consist not in the Judicial Powers which lead to Punishment, and which belong to the magistrates alone, but in the Prevention and Detection of crimes…' This, today so routine, was groundbreaking, in a single sentence setting policing on an entirely new track: that it was a professional job; that it and the legal system were two different arenas; and that it should be preventative, acting prior to the commission of criminal acts. John Fielding, a remarkable magistrate, had, it is true, begun to move towards detection when he set up a 'Register of Robberies, Informations, Examinations, Convictions, suspicious Book [sic], and Newgate Calendars' – that is, not a register of crimes only, but of potential criminals and potential crime. But for the most part, prosecution after the commission of a crime was all that was expected. This had been fairly efficient in rural communities and towns, where populations were small and people all knew each other. In rapidly urbanizing areas, however, crime detection was more difficult, and the number of cases that came before the magistrates put them under enormous pressure.

From Invention of Murder by Judith Flanders. Copyright © 2013 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin's Press, LLC

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Screaming Bloody Murder

Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The North Water
    The North Water
    by Ian McGuire
    In early 1859 the crew of the Volunteer, a Greenland-bound whaler, is making the most of the last ...
  • Book Jacket: City of Secrets
    City of Secrets
    by Stewart O'Nan
    In his new novel, City of Secrets, Stewart O'Nan spins a tale of espionage and intrigue as ...
  • Book Jacket: The Atomic Weight of Love
    The Atomic Weight of Love
    by Elizabeth Church
    A prologue set in 2011 introduces readers to this novel's unforgettable narrator. Meridian ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Children
    by Ann Leary

    With remarkable wit and insight, Ann Leary pulls back the curtain on one blended family.

    Read Member Reviews

Members review books pre-publication. Read their opinions in First Impressions

Win this book!
Win The Weekenders

The Perfect Summer Escape!

Told with Mary Kay Andrews' trademark blend of humor and warmth.


Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Girl Waits with Gun
by Amy Stewart

An enthralling novel based on the forgotten true adventures of one of the nation's first female deputy sheriffs.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Word Play

Solve this clue:

B A Usual

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.