A real life Victorian mystery,
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This review is from: Mr Briggs' Hat: A Sensational Account of Britain's First Railway Murder: The True Story of a Victorian Railway Murder (Kindle Edition)
I must admit to a certain initial prejudice against purchasing this book because, having read the blurb, it seemed to me an attempt to cash in on the success of Kate Summerscale's excellent 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher'. Indeed Jack Whicher is mentioned in these pages as a contemporary of the detective Inspector Richard Tanner who is the chief investigator of the murder of Thomas Briggs in a Victorian railway carriage, the subject of Kate Colquhon's book. It's certainly true that the Colquhon story covers the same period of history, tracks the investigation of a real-life high-profile murder and treats its subject in a very similar style to Kate Summerscale, but I came to the conclusion that I couldn't blame the author for the publisher's opportunism and that her own credentials were anyway impeccable. So I bought the book.
I'm glad I did. As with 'Mr Whicher' I was transported to mid-Victorian England and was as thoroughly engaged with the murder, the investigation, the chase, trial and aftermath as newspaper readers of the time obviously were, though Colquhon writes with far more restraint than many of those journalists covering the story. Ms Colquhoun's admirable research allows us not only to become steeped in the details of the case but also to have a tangible sense of the lived context, with plenty of rich descriptive background to place the reader in the territory. We do hear the occasional riffle of research notes but in general the learning is presented subtly and in tune with the narrative.
Tanner is not brought to life as effectively as Summerscale's Whicher, but the difficult-to-pin-down Francis Muller - the supposed villain of the piece - is very carefully drawn in all his ambiguities.
This being real life, there is no fully realised close-the-book resolution, but Colquhon makes that a strength of her book, particularly in the final chapters. I won't say more than that, not wishing to give too much of the game away, but I do warn readers not to take too close a look at the picture captions before you've finished the narrative, otherwise you will discover more than you may wish to know at that point.