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51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mr Briggs' Hat
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...
Published on 8 May 2011 by S Riaz

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but ....
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...
Published 14 months ago by Perfectionist?


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but ...., 8 Feb. 2014
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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. I know extensive use of numbered foot or end notes in text can be distracting; but if they're present you can ignore them, and if they're not there having to separately go to the notes for each chapter (say) to check if there are any notes is more distracting in my view. And only coming to the notes at the end, as is possible if you've not read the list of contents carefully, is just annoying.

Finally, I agree with others who warn against looking at the photos if you don't want to know what happens at the trial until you're read the book. It would have been better if the relevant photos had been put at the end rather than in the middle
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51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mr Briggs' Hat, 8 May 2011
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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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. The author has brought to life the characters and there is a real sense of urgency and concern about false leads, whether there is enough evidence and whether the man they are chasing is simply a victim of circumstances or the murderer. The book has suspicious foreign suspects, thrilling transatlantic chases and is an exciting and interesting read. The author has done a wonderful job of recreating the entire mystery. And what, exactly, happened to Mr Briggs's hat? Highly recommended - this is history at its best.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So Much More ..., 5 Mar. 2012
By 
Joanna Cannon (Ashbourne, Derbyshire) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Mr Briggs' Hat: A Sensational Account of Britain's First Railway Murder (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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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing and involving real-life murder-mystery, 5 May 2011
By 
Keris Nine - See all my reviews
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On 9th July 1864, a murder took place that captured the interest and the imagination of the British public. The victim was Thomas Briggs, a banker in the City, whose body was discovered on railway tracks of the North London Railway line, his watch and hat missing, the first-class carriage he occupied on his journey left spattered with blood and a hat belonging to someone else. What is notable about the incident is that it was the first killing to ever take place on a British Railway, in an enclosed carriage that had no entrance or connecting passageway, but rather only a direct entry from a station platform.

The notoriety of the murder is heightened further by the Victorian public's new-found appetite for grubby crime stories being related in sensational literature, and in the novelty of the progress of a real-life case being relayed in the now readily available newspapers and periodicals. The fascination for the details of the case reaches even greater proportions when it is learned that the chief suspect, a German tailor, has left the country on a slow-boat across the Atlantic. A police detective is dispatched on a faster ship to arrive in the still expanding New York before the suspect, to apprehend him and extradite him back for trial. The Victorian public avidly follow the exciting course of events that unfold before their eyes.

As, nearly 150 years later, should the modern reader following the case as related in fascinating detail by Kate Colquhoun. As you would expect, the book is thoroughly researched - not just for the particulars of the case of Thomas Briggs, intriguing as it is as a murder-mystery, but also for the effort that has gone into putting it into the context of British society during the Victorian era. In addition to what the case tells us about the newly formed police service, the early forensic science of the period and the workings of the judicial system, much is also revealed about the nature of the public, class differences and international tensions, the nature of the press and the literature of the period.

While there is no skimping on historical research and presentation of all the relevant facts pertaining to the case and the social situation that it takes place in, Mr Briggs' Hat is never dull or academic, but highly readable and no less thrilling than any fictional work, covering every angle of what remains an intriguing and involving real-life murder-mystery.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A capital Victorian murder, 3 Jun. 2011
This page-turner of a real life account opens with the gruesome crime scene - the blood spattered over the first class carriage of a train, a discarded leather bag, an ivory-knobbed walking stick and a hat. The scene is so vivid that it hooks the reader straightaway taking them on a journey with a narrative which races at breakneck speed, hurtling along the track with all the twists and turns of a Victorian `sensation' novel. Tension mounts as we follow Mr Briggs to his office, unaware of his inevitable fate that is waiting for him on his way home from work.

Kate Colquhoun captures perfectly the spirit of the Victorian age: the extraordinary innovations of technology at odds with the deep-seated anxiety of the unknown. Mr Briggs is about to find himself at the heart of a frenzied public debate as his murder embodies the middle class commuters' worst fears.

The voyeuristic frisson of intrigue and speculation is accompanied by rich and evocative description. Compelling detail and a deft touch bring the past to life through a vivid portrayal of everyday life in the vibrant metropolis of 1860s London.

The real life investigation that follows Thomas Briggs' murder is reminiscent of the detective novels of the time. Through the skilful writing of Kate Colquhoun, we follow the leads of the detectives as they examine clues that could have been lifted straight from the pages of Arthur Conan Doyle. The suspense builds as the investigation climaxes in a cross-Atlantic chase and the suspect's arrest in New York.

The ensuing courtroom drama has all the excitement and suspense of a modern film sequence, heightened by an underlying ambiguity of whether the suspect is guilty or innocent. Ambivalent to the end, the reader is left with an all-pervading sadness over the fate of possibly two victims.

Mr Briggs' Hat is real life crime at its very best.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crime and Punishment, Victorian Style, 28 May 2011
By 
Rob Hardy "Rob Hardy" (Columbus, Mississippi USA) - See all my reviews
Mr. Thomas Briggs was an old banker, reliable, hard-working, and dull. On 9 July 1864, after his usual early Saturday quitting time, he had an early supper with his favorite niece in London. He then caught a train for home, in the suburbs of Hackney. He did not arrive. In a crime that would have shocked him thoroughly if he could have read about it the papers, he was murdered on the train and thrown out of the carriage. The news, indeed, drove stories about the American Civil War into back pages, and the outrage remained a sensation as the detectives marshaled a case against the murderer, and through the final justice that resulted. It is all vividly described in _Mr Briggs' Hat: A Sensational Account of Britain's First Railway Murder_ (Little, Brown UK) by Kate Colquhoun. Sensational is certainly the word, reflecting the titillation brought by newspaper reports of the crime, the subsequent trial, and the punishment. We do not have the crime's immediacy nearly a century and a half later, but Colquhoun's detailed and exciting account is a sensation in its own way.

She points out that trains were huge and scary machines which sometimes exploded and sometimes ran off the track. The sense of loss of control might have been felt by anyone who entered a carriage such as that of Mr. Briggs; it was a mere box with seats, with no communication or path to the identical box ahead of it or behind. Mr. Briggs boarded the train to go to his home in Hackney, but his compartment had no one in it when it arrived; there was only his cane, his bag, and a hat that was not his, along with plenty of his blood everywhere. His body was found by the side of the train tracks where he had been ejected. He had no hat, and had also lost his gold watch and chain. Detectives were able to trace hats and chains and come up with a suspect, a German tailor, Franz Müller, but just as they went to get him, they learned he was off to New York. The chief detective on the case went to fetch him, and Britons knew that the chase (which has to be one of the slowest of crime chases recorded) was on. Brought back, Müller proved not to be a hulking German psychopath, but was slight and inoffensive. could only report that Müller was slightly built and seemingly inoffensive. Indeed, Müller seemed an unlikely suspect to many. There was only circumstantial evidence against him, but as the prosecutor emphasized during the proceedings, murders do not happen when witnesses are around, so that circumstantial evidence is all there is. Distressingly, there were other possible explanations about the watch, chain, and hats; if there was circumstantial evidence against Müller, there was also circumstantial evidence for his exculpation. He was found guilty, and while the newspapers and public were eager for the ritual confession from the man about to be hanged, Müller maintained his innocence until the last, and even all these years after the event, Colquhoun keeps some suspense about how it was all going to turn out.

The final scenes of justice are just the last of many memorable events evocatively brought back in Colquhoun's colorful descriptions. A final chapter reflects on the changes that have happened since the crime and punishment of the narrative of the book. Britain did away with capital punishment in 1964 (long preceded by other European nations), but public hangings were banned in 1868. Müller said nothing at his trial except to give his initial plea of not guilty; defendants did not at the time testify in their own behalf. The Crown's prosecutors were under no legal obligation to reveal to the defense the material that might have helped toward Müller's acquittal, a requirement that was not in place until 1981. And only in 1866 did the government pass a law requiring that there be some system by which passengers isolated in their carriages might inform officials on the train of an emergency. It's no surprise that we live in a different world now, but anyone interested in true crime or in the social history of the period will find this a vivid recollection of Victorian enthusiasms and Victorian worries.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blood and murder on the railway, 28 May 2011
By 
Paul Gelman "PAUL Y. GELMAN" (HAIFA , ISRAEL) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
It all started when a train guard heard a commotion coming from the front of the train he was working on and his curiosity led him to a first-class carriage where blood was discovered by two gentlemen who intended to take their seats in the respective compartment. The floor ,the cushions and the windows of the carriage were smeared with blood as well. What was supposed to be a regular railway journey became a sensation: a murder of a respectable bank clerk set in motion a story which would obsessed the Victorians for many months. The drama which unfolded was not only to be followed in England but also in the USA. The clerck, Mr. Thomas Biggs, was not found at the beginning and an immediate investigation started ,well....I would not like to disclose whatever followed.
This book is a very good recreation of many things, especially the atmosphere in those days, where you can learn about the sounds, the sights, the smells, the prisons and investigation rooms, the crowded and unsanitary streets and other places of those times, the Civil War effects in the USA, the scientific methods used in the new science of criminolgy as, of course, the legal proceedings in both the USA and particularly in England. The crowds and their appetite for sensations, blood and drama are extremely well described and one can learn alot about the mentality of the crowd and public opinion during those years, namely the sixties of the nineteenth century.
Was the murderer caught? What about his motive or motives? Please read this book. You will enjoy every part of it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A light and accessible account of an intriguing historical event,,, 14 Dec. 2011
This review is from: Mr Briggs' Hat: A Sensational Account of Britain's First Railway Murder (Paperback)
The most disappointing part of this book is the promise on the cover of 'a sensational account' of Britain's first railway murder. Sensational?

The publisher would appear to be trying to pull potential readers in under false pretences. There is very little that is sensational about this account of Britain's first railway murder - it's actually a very factual account which borders on the tedious at times - but only because the author has tried to stretch the rather scant material.

So why read it? Initial criticism aside, I enjoyed this book because I enjoyed the history, not just of the murder itself, but of the role that the rising popular press played in directing the feelings of the public so that, for the murder suspect, it was as much trial by popular press as it was trial by jury. I think that this is as much a story in itself and the book could have made more of this.

Would I recommend it? Not if you've been attracted by the word 'sensational', but if you enjoy true crime and history combined, it's a light and accessible account of an intriguing historical event.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A VICTORIAN CRIME ON THE RAILWAYS, 19 May 2013
This was a most enjoyable account of a Victorian murder on a train.It throws up lots of interesting questions that in most cases were resolved over the next few decades, and shows how hard fought rights that we accept to day took time.In no particular order-communications on the railways,and the development of the communication cord-the right of an accused to make a statement in court, and to be questioned and cross examined,the development of forensic medicine,and how it has helped in the solving of crime,an up-date might be the developmnt and use of DNA..The development of inter-continental communications.
This was a well written account of the murder and the capture and conviction of Franz Muller,the only downside of the book was the location of the photos which gave the outcome of the trial,which was a bit of a spoiler, but the book was enjoyable, and did not allow itself to get too bogged down in legal and descriptive detail.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mr Briggs'Hat, 18 Mar. 2013
By 
Damaskcat (UK) - See all my reviews
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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. They also seem not to have paid too much attention to the two young men who found the blood in the railway carriage and who had direct links with the victim. Briggs' family believed he had received threats because he had rejected a loan application,

There is enough doubt in the case to exercise the imagination of the observant reader of this fascinating book and plenty of sources listed if anyone wishes to take the story further. It is an intriguing story and I read it in less than twenty four hours. There are copious notes on the text, a list of the dramatis personae and an index as well as illustrations which display well in this e-book edition. The book is well written and as exciting as any detective fiction.
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