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on 13 March 2011
The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime

One is at first almost bowled over by the amount of what seems like meticulous research, careful notes and a fairly good index. But all the old favourites are there, The Ratcliffe Highway murders, Kent, Corder etc. Nothing very new for any but the young. Like Judith Flanders' other books (A Circle of Sisters being the exception for me) there is just too much of it. Even so, Patrick Watson was Physician-in-Ordinary to Queen Victoria in Scotland and Heron was his second, not his first, name. And if Conan Doyle did take the name of his detective from anyone connected with cricket it was two men (Sherwin and Shacklock)not one. Nit-picking maybe, but inevitable given the avalanche of information contained here.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 June 2011
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. The illustrations (posters, papers, handbills, cartoons, souvenirs) reveal the extraordinary and greatly exaggerated depiction of these events, which caused understandable waves of panic and insecurity amongst predominantly middle and upper class households, and provoked 'knee-jerk' legislative reactions as a consequence (sound familiar?). Clearly, the 'established order' felt threatened by both the rate of social change, and the way in which murder increasingly seemed to respect no social order at all. Unlike some other reviewers, I found this provided some fascinating sociological insights, even if some were provided indirectly or inference.

This is a substantial tome, and should not be considered 'light reading', given the mass of information contained within the main text, let alone the copious notes and references. Perhaps my one reservation is that there are rather too many examples given, and this introduces a sense of repetition and 'sensory overload' which can dull the attention span at times. Anyone with an interest in the development of the modern crime novel, or the Victorian social order, or the history of policing and the court system, or the reciprocal relationship between the media and public spectacle, is likely to find this fascinating. In fact, anyone with a curious mind at all, which I feel is high praise indeed for a book which must have been a labour of love. Strongly recommended.
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on 10 November 2011
No illustrations! There are constant references to visual material none of which is there in the Kindle edition. As the text is often quite dense the referenced cartoons and broadsheets would have helped readability immensely. I agree with the reviewer who mentioned the problem with the references, which were all at the end of the chapters.
Though the Kindle does well with fiction, unless the formatting improves I will not be using it for Non-fiction in the future.
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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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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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 January 2011
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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on 6 April 2011
This is about more than murder. It contextualises the act within the changing century, showing how the crime of murder came to be reflected in the press, in theatre and in other forms of popular culture.

The author certainly has a way with words, and isn't afraid to inject her personal view here and there, in a wonderfully dry manner. ("Hurrah indeed.") I know this irritates some readers of history, but in this case it is refrained and really only reflects what, I think, would be the view of most people reading the passages in which she mkes her thoughts known. These are usually tales of a way of living or way of thinking and percieving that are so alien to us in the here-and-now as to rightfully warrent some sort of reaction from the reader. Having the author do so as well makes it appear perfectly natural in this book.

If you just enjoy reading little snippets of murders, or case studies, then this wont dissapoint. The big crimes are here of course, as this is about the crimes that were popular in the puplic imagination. This shouldn't be your first port of call if that is all you are after, though. As a compliment to understanding more about Victorian society, though, or about the evolution of murder as a crime, and the public response to it, this should be on your shopping list.
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The author shows how murders caught the Victorian imagination and how real life murders were quickly transformed into novels, penny dreadfuls, broadsides and plays as well as occupying many column inches in newspapers. Some murders seem to have appealed to the public whereas others didn't.

Many well-known cases are explored in this interesting book including Maria Martin and the Red Barn, the Madeleine Smith poisoning case as well as Adelaide Bartlett. Women convicted of murder appealed to the public to a much greater extent than did men convicted of murder. Women were and are actually in the minority when it comes to murder so fiction does not reflect fact in this respect.

I found this book fascinating reading though I did find some of it a little confusing because there are so many murder cases discussed it was difficult to keep the facts clear in my own mind. This could be because I read it in short sessions so I would not want that to put off other potential readers. I found the links between real cases and fiction of great interest especially the links between real cases and well known books such as Wilkie Collins - The Woman in White and the Moonstone and Charles Dickens' Edwin Drood.

The book is well written with touches of humour. There is an index, a bibliography and comprehensive notes on the text. The e-book edition does not contain any illustrations.
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on 14 June 2012
This is a richly enjoyable compendium of Victorian murder. She is particularly good at drawing together real murder cases and tracing their after lives on the stage or in fiction (especially Dickens and Collins). It's finely illustrated and well presented. Where it falls short is that this is not really history, in so far as there isn't really an argument (as the subtitle suggests). The various accounts, while fascinating in themselves, don't add up to 'a book' in the same way that her previous work has (especially The Victorian House and Circle of Sisters). Well researched and diverting though not perhaps as memorable as her other work.
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on 22 May 2012
Judith Flanders obviously knows her stuff as evidenced by the extensive notes and bibliography, but I felt the content could have done with some editing down. The formula of telling us about a case and then detailing popular reaction, what the press printed, how it was reflected in the penny dreadfuls and novels of the time and finally stage productions, became rather tedious. There were flashes of brilliance and I enjoyed her witty asides, but they were too rare for me.
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