BookBrowse Reviews The Invention of Murder by Judith Flanders

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 by Judith Flanders X
The Invention of Murder by Judith Flanders
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

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

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Judi Sauerbrey
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


This lively and engaging book sheds light on a side of the Victorians that is not often seen in literature

The subtitle says it all: "How The Victorians Revelled In Death And Detection And Created Modern Crime."

And if that gives one a start of surprise, well it should. When we hear that "V word," we are more apt to think of overly ornate boudoirs, tight corsets, yards of silken brocade, and the romantic language of the fan. But murder? Oh, certainly we've all heard of Jack the Ripper and 125 years later are still fascinated by him (or her?). But that was an anomaly of the era – wasn't it?

Social historian Judith Flanders proves herself a master storyteller as she recounts copious tales of British murder and mayhem that course through the entire 19th century and deftly shows us how our Victorian forebears were as fascinated by the subject as any devotee of reality television is in our own day.

Otherwise perfectly respectable pillars of Victorian society crowded into courtrooms, traipsed through still gory crime scenes, and greedily devoured sensational newspaper accounts (factual or not—mostly not). They also spent their hard-earned shillings on various broadsides, penny dreadfuls and theatrical efforts that materialized before the bodies in question were barely cold. Imagine, if you can, trying to resist the lure of a marquee on a fashionable West End theatre boldly proclaiming "JONATHAN BRADFORD, OR THE MURDER AT THE ROADSIDE INN." This evil innkeeper melodrama premiered in 1847 and ran for 161 consecutive performances (including Sundays), an astounding record for the time.

Furthermore, and this might be the real surprise here, many of these same paragons shelled out large sums for the best seats at the executions before such spectacles were removed from the public eye in 1868. Those who lived in close proximity to the gallows also proved extremely enterprising by charging exorbitant prices for the best views from their front windows or rooftops!

Sweeney Todd Although, as Flanders hastens to point out, murder in the 19th century was relatively rare, the sensationalizing of it was not — even if we think the phrase, "If it bleeds, it leads" is a more contemporary invention. Buttressed by a cast of characters that is by turns colorful, gruesome, pathetic and fascinating, Flanders writes history at its most readable that flows along like an exciting novel and arrives at some eye-opening conclusions, namely how this penchant gave rise, not only to the creation of the modern police force as we know it, but also one of the most popular literary genres ever created: detective and mystery fiction.

For example, take the case of the notorious Road Murder, June 28, 1860. A respectable Wiltshire household awakens to find its toddler son, little Francis Savile Kent, unaccountably missing. Accordingly, the four older children of Samuel Kent by his first wife (the current Mrs. Kent being too pregnant to assist), the servants, and the nearby townspeople as well as a contingent of the Trowbridge constabulary meticulously search house and grounds to no avail. Finally as afternoon begins to crawl toward evening, the toddler's body is discovered, thrust down an outside privy, his throat cut and a stab wound to the chest.

Whodunit? A jealous stepchild? A disgruntled servant? A neighbor with a grudge? Or perhaps (Oh, horrors!) a roving band of gypsies. Rest assured, all is divulged and expounded in this spellbinding account of this foul deed—and many more besides.

And what about "…our own lighthearted friend, Yours truly, Jack the Ripper?" He appears here, too, although not until the final chapter, and not before we have already been treated to a host of dismembered fiancées, poisoned spouses, blood-spattered shopkeepers, smarmy body snatchers and sadistic butchers a la the fictional Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

It is not often that history can be described by the words "a page-turner," or "I couldn't put it down," but Judith Flanders succeeds on both levels. She provides an intriguing slant on an era about which there are many myths and misconceptions and shows us only too well that we are not so far removed from our ancestors after all.

Picture of Penny Dreadful from CollectingBooksandMagazines.com

Reviewed by Judi Sauerbrey

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in September 2013, and has been updated for the August 2014 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • 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 $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Screaming Bloody Murder

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Hades, Argentina
    Hades, Argentina
    by Daniel Loedel
    Daniel Loedel's debut novel, Hades, Argentina, opens in 1986 when we meet Tomás Orillo, a young...
  • Book Jacket: Dark Horses
    Dark Horses
    by Susan Mihalic
    Dark Horses is a shocking, heart-pounding debut; it's both a coming-of-age novel and an unflinching ...
  • Book Jacket: Best Laid Plans
    Best Laid Plans
    by Gwen Florio
    When starting a series, first impressions are key. Introducing a sympathetic or relatable ...
  • Book Jacket: Last Night at the Telegraph Club
    Last Night at the Telegraph Club
    by Malinda Lo
    Author Malinda Lo takes readers to Chinatown, San Francisco in 1954, where 17-year-old Lily Hu is ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Lost Apothecary
    by Sarah Penner

    A forgotten history. A secret network of women. A legacy of poison and revenge. Welcome to The Lost Apothecary.

    Reader Reviews
  • Book Jacket

    Smalltime
    by Russell Shorto

    Family secrets emerge as a best-selling author dives into the history of the mob in small-town America.

    Reader Reviews
Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Narrowboat Summer
by Anne Youngson
From the author of Meet Me at the Museum, a charming novel of second chances.
Win This Book!
Win Band of Sisters

Band of Sisters
by Lauren Willig

"A crackling portrayal of everyday American heroines…A triumph."
— Fiona Davis

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

W T's Life T's H

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & 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 the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.