In The Media
August 26, 2013
Murder in the nineteenth century was rare. But murder as sensation and entertainment became ubiquitous--transformed into novels, into broadsides and ballads, into theatre and melodrama and opera--even into puppet shows and performing dog-acts. Read more...
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Murder in the nineteenth century was rare. But murder as sensation and entertainment became ubiquitous--transformed into novels, into broadsides and ballads, into theatre and melodrama and opera--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 fascinating book, Judith Flanders retells the gruesome stories of many different types of murder--both famous and obscure--from the crimes (and myths) of Sweeney Todd and Jack the Ripper to the tragedies of the murdered Marr family in London's East End; Burke and Hare and their bodysnatching business in Edinburgh; and Greenacre, who transported his dismembered fiancee around town by omnibus. With an irresistible cast of swindlers, forgers, and poisoners, the mad, the bad and the dangerous to know, "The Invention of Murder" is both a gripping tale of crime and punishment, and history at its most readable.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-05-20
- Reviewer: Staff
Social historian Flanders (Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England) does a superb job of demonstrating the role that the press and fiction writers played in shaping the British public’s attitudes toward crime during the 19th century. She captures perfectly the appeal of bloody fiction and macabre news stories: “Crime, especially murder, is very pleasant to think about in the abstract: it is like hearing blustery rain on the windowpane when sitting indoors.” But it’s unlikely that the British thought of murder much at all during the first decade of the 19th century—in 1810, there were a mere 15 murder convictions in England and Wales combined. The public’s perception of random lethal violence changed with the horrific 1811 Ratcliffe Highway killings, brutal mass murders in London’s East End that coincided with technological advances that enabled swifter and cheaper production of broadsheets describing the crimes. Flanders’s convincing and smart synthesis of the evolution of an official police force, fictional detectives, and real-life cause célèbres will appeal to devotees of true crime and detective fiction alike. B&w illus. throughout. (July)