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Mr Briggs' Hat: A Sensational Account of Britain's First Railway Murder Paperback – 2 Feb 2012


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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus (2 Feb. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349123594
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349123592
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.4 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 141,683 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kate Colquhoun's previous non-fiction titles were shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize 2004 and longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2003. Her most recent book Mr Briggs' Hat was shortlisted for the 2011 CWA Daggers: Non-fiction Prize. As well as writing for several newspapers and magazines, she appears regularly on national radio and television. She lives in London with her two sons.

Product Description

Review

(A) thrilling book, which reads at times like a good Victorian novel... an utterly compelling did-he-do-it (Sunday Times)

Deploying her skill as a historian, Colquhoun turns a single curious murder case into a fascinatingly quirky portrait of the underside of mid-Victorian London. I found it unputdownable (Daily Telegraph)

Kate Colquhoun is a fine, robust writer who makes the most of its every twist and turn (Mail on Sunday)

With a storyteller's instinct for colour and suspense Kate Colquhoun has brilliantly recreated the five-month period from Thomas Briggs' death to Muller's execution (Daily Express)

Kate Colquhoun's irreproachable unpicking of the case is meticulous, patient, thorough and measured (Independent)

Book Description

The fascinating story of the first ever railway murder

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Perfectionist? on 8 Feb. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Meticulously researched and detailed, and well written with an easy flowing style, this ought to tick all the boxes. But fact is not fiction, and there are no twists or surprising revelations of the kind a fictional author might have inserted, and there are details and characters which a good fictional editor would have excised. This is really an observation not a criticism, and possibly a warning to those expecting a pseudo-thriller.

To labour the point, this is no dry mere historical account (I doubt KC could write anything in a boring style) but nor is it a dramatic reconstruction. And the problem for me was that although undoubtedly a sensation at the time, for reasons well explained by the author, by the modern standards we have come to expect (not only from fiction, sadly) this is not especially sensational, either in the facts of the crime or the process of the investigation and trial. It is interesting and instructive, particularly for those interested in the way the criminal justice system worked over a century ago and the public's involvement, but at times I confess I was hoping for something unexpected to happen.

There is also the problem of the conclusion. I don't want to introduce any spoilers for those who do not know how this case concluded but clearly there was conflicting evidence. And although the author does hint (I think) at what her preferred view is, I think she rightly avoids explicitly giving an opinion. So, for some I think, the uncertainty that must remain will be a disappointment.

The kindle edition is flawed in that, although the extensive notes at the end have active links to the relevant places in the body of the text, there are no indications (actively linked or not) in the text to those notes.
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51 of 56 people found the following review helpful By S Riaz HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 8 May 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Mr Thomas Briggs was an upstanding member of society. On a summer Saturday morning, he left his home for work at his bank. Finishing early, he ate dinner with his niece and then returned home on the train at 8pm. At that time first class carriages had separate compartments, two rows of seats facing each other, without any corridor to go from one carriage to another. Questions had already been raised about what a person could do if they were taken ill or needed assistance. What nobody expected was for a first class passenger, travelling on a short journey home,to be murdered. However, that is exactly what happened to Mr Briggs. When the train stopped, passengers alerted train staff to the fact that the carriage had bloodstains on the seat and the door. There was an empty bag, a walking stick and a crushed hat - later found not to belong to Mr Briggs. The carriage door was locked and the police called, but there was no sign of either an attacker or a victim. Mr Briggs was later found thrown from the train and he never regained consciousness before dying.

The crime was shocking, unprecedented and sensational. It was felt that nobody was safe and the police were under pressure to solve the mystery quickly. Inspector Tanner was given the difficult task of solving the crime. Everything seemed to lead to a dead end until a silversmith, appropriately called John Death, identified Mr Briggs watch chain which was brought to his shop and exchanged for another. Tanner was quickly on the trail of a possible assailant and the chase was on.

I do not want to give away what happens in this wonderful book, but it is just like following the criminal investigation as it happened.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Joanna Cannon on 5 Mar. 2012
Format: Paperback
Mr Briggs' Hat is a wonderful account of a truly fascinating murder case. Kate Colquhoun delivers the facts with such incredible clarity, yet tells them in a way which would rival any great novelist, creating a perfect balance of evidence and story-telling. The meticulous research is actually breathtaking. In the hands of a less-skilled writer, I might not have cared quite so much about Mr Briggs, but Ms Colquhoun writes in such a way that I felt as though I were unconvering the truth alongside her, and the discovery of new witnesses and changes in direction meant the pages of the book almost turned themselves. By the end of the story, I cared so much, I wanted to march into the courtroom and plead with the jury to see sense.

This is also so much more than a tale of murder. It's a beautiful insight into Victorian life; a brilliant account of man's reflexive fear of change, of a population fragmented by class and politics, and of a time which found itself on the edge of a moral quandary. It's the story of a man whose fate will be determined, not just by the evidence, but by the attitudes of the society in which he finds himself.

Perfect.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Damaskcat HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 18 Mar. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Thomas Briggs was attacked and ejected from a railway carriage in July 1864. His injuries were severe and he subsequently died from them without regaining consciousness. He was a banker and had done well for himself during his life. He was seventy when he died, taking the secrets of the attack to his grave. The alarm was first raised by fellow employees of the bank when they got into the railway carriage and found it spattered with blood. About the same time Briggs was discovered on the railway line and carried to a nearby public house. There was a battered hat left in the carriage which did not belong to Briggs and it was this hat which later led to the German tailor who was executed for his murder.

But was he really the murderer? He seemed too open, honest and mild mannered to have attacked anyone. Franz Muller, while not being very good with money, seems to have been an inoffensive person but there was overwhelming circumstantial evidence against him. In a chase as exciting as any fiction Muller was pursued to New York by the police and two of the witnesses against him and brought back to England. He had the victim's gold watch - identified by serial numbers - and his hat in his possession. He could have come by them honestly as he claimed but it seemed unlikely especially when the hat which remained in the railway carriage was identified as Muller's.

In spite of this evidence a modern barrister could have probably constructed a defence and enough reasonable doubt to save his client from the gallows. The police seem not to have investigated the sighting by several people of the agitated man on the same train and the two men seen in the same compartment by a friend of the victim.
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