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The Invention of Murder Hardcover – 6 Jan 2011

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 556 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPress; First Edition edition (6 Jan. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007248881
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007248889
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 4.3 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 411,031 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Judith Flanders was born in London, England, in 1959. She moved to Montreal, Canada, when she was two, and spent her childhood there, apart from a year in Israel in 1972, where she signally failed to master Hebrew.

After university, Judith returned to London and began working as an editor for various publishing houses. After this 17-year misstep, she began to write and in 2001 her first book, A Circle of Sisters, the biography of four Victorian sisters, was published to great acclaim, and nominated for the Guardian First Book Award. In 2003, The Victorian House received widespread praise, and was shortlisted for the British Book Awards History Book of the Year. In 2006, Consuming Passions was published. Her book, The Invention of Murder, was shortlisted for the 2011 CWA Non-Fiction Dagger. Her most recent book, The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens' London, was published in 2012.

Judith also contributes articles, features and reviews for a number of newspapers and magazines. He home on the web can be found at

Product Description


Praise for Consuming Passions:

‘“Consuming Passions” tells the story of Victorian leisure and pleasure as an interrelated and intricate set of transformations…no single book could bind so complex and vast a field within a single theory…(it) leads its crocodile of readers on an eccentric, meandering path through the question of how Victorians took pleasure…its pursuit proves a fascinating, bewildering, marvel-crammed quest.’ Guardian

‘It is a world explored with much wit and insight…Flanders is excellent…It’s a rich mix [and]…fluently written…It has every chance of becoming a bestseller.’ Sunday Telegraph

‘Formidable…[an] excellent study…a major achievement.’ Observer

About the Author

Judith Flanders is the author of the bestselling ‘The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed’ (2003) and ‘Consuming Passions’ (2006), as well as the critically acclaimed ‘A Circle of Sisters’ (2001) – a biography of Alice Kipling, Georgiana Burne-Jones, Agnes Poynder and Louisa Baldwin – which was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award. She is a frequent contributor to the ‘Daily Telegraph’, the ‘Guardian’, the ‘Evening Standard’, and the ‘Times Literary Supplement’. She lives in London.

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Big Jim TOP 100 REVIEWER on 6 Jan. 2011
Format: Hardcover
I got this as a Christmas present so don't know why Amazon have waited until the new year to release this book. I heartily recommend it to anyone who is interested in Victoriana, crime fiction or non-fiction, or anyone looking for an entertaining and sometimes surprisingly shocking read. The author shows how the burgeoning Victorian press was initially responsible for feeding the salacious appetite for "murder most foul" which in turn led to public outcries and fears (many statistically unfounded) over rising crime, this in turn leading to the formation of the Police Service and a veritable security "industry". She also describes how authors and indeed publishers saw a new opening in the market for crime, particularly murder, fiction and were not slow in filling the gap. I must say that I was most interested in the lurid extracts from the many newspapers and periodicals of the day which didn't pull any punches in descriptions that would shock today's readers. I guess this book is aimed at readers who enjoyed the Suspicions of Mr Whicher and if only half as many who bought that book buy this one then this book will be a success. Don't expect deep psychological insight or insightful sociological explanations in this book but do expect a rollicking good read, as the saying goes.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By C. Ball TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 29 Oct. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book sets out to show explore the Victorian attitude to murder and how it helped to create and shape the fledgling police and detective forces. It describes how often the Victorians viewed the murder as simultaneously something dreadful and entertaining at the same time - exemplified by the massive crowds that would turn out to witness a hanging, the broadsides and songs on the subjects that were so popular, the true-life crime turned into plays and novels, the massive interest in the press.

It's quite comprehensive, almost too so. I have to confess with being a little disappointed with this book. I've read other of Judith Flanders' books and found them very interesting, but this I found a little tedious in places, which is a surprise considering the subject matter. Perhaps there is a thing as just too many murders? Somewhere along the way it loses something, and I found myself struggling to finish it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Sentinel TOP 500 REVIEWER on 7 Jun. 2011
Format: Hardcover
Bought this on the strength of some very complimentary newspaper reviews, and discovered a thoroughly-researched, heavily-evidenced study of murder and its coverage in the media of the time, linked to the public's insatiable appetite for scandal and gore (interesting how little things change!). Flanders meticulous study works methodically through how murder was exploited to line the pockets of newspaper hacks,the income of magazines, souvenir sellers, the theatre, Madame Tussaud's, and to influence the Victorian novel, and give rise to the 'crime novel', with both Wilkie Collins, Dickens and many others re-working real-life characters into the murderers and victims of their books.

At the same time Flanders charts the impact on the police force of the time, from its hotly debated establishment as a 'preventative measure', then through its disjointed local jurisdiction which inhibited any notion of criminal pursuit, to its development as a detection agency, using the new-fangled wonders of the telegraph to track down their quarry. Endless murders are examined, and the appalling nature of the court system, and the general absence of a defence counsel, which meant innocent characters were condemned to the gallows, while those with money (and the right social class) walked free. The bias and complacency exhibited by judges, doctors and coroners alike truly make the blood run cold.

I found this well written, with the occasional glimpses of humour necessary to leaven some of the horrific injustices revealed.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Wynne Kelly TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 9 Feb. 2012
Format: Paperback
Superb research has gone into this very readable account of how crime (especially murder) became almost an entertainment in the 19th century. There had been murders committed since time immemorial but the combination of newspapers, theatre, street hawkers and the printing press brought about a cultural shift in people's attitudes.

In describing court trials of the time we are told that the law did not necessarily permit the accused to know what the prosecution case would be. Neither was the defendant expected to have a defence counsel unless he was of some means. It was felt that the prosecution case would usually be so good that any defence was superfluous! Murder trials may only take a very short time and juries often came up with a guilty verdict in minutes. The only punishment for murder was hanging which normally took place within 48 hours.

Murder trials and executions became the soap operas of their day. Newspapers and broadsheets produced every detail imaginable for the eager readers. In their rush to judgement the unfettered press wrote what they thought their readers wanted rather than the truth. Books, plays and poetry were inspired by real life crime -but always much elaborated on. Female victims were usually portrayed as innocent maids seduced by blackguards.

Judith Flanders packs a lot into the (almost) 500 pages. She is particularly good on the rise of the professional detectives, the use of expert witnesses and the public's disillusionment in them. The birth and rise of the detective novel is also well covered and how Dickens, Eliot, Collins etc were inspired by contemporary trials.

An excellent and illuminating read. But a word of warning - if you are considering murder by poisoning then make sure you buy the poison yourself rather than send anyone else. It's amazing how many times a murderer was accused because of this (literally) fatal mistake!
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