As if I didn’t have enough books of my own, I can’t resist browsing the library books when I’m doing research. Although my current research topic is a Victorian-era Landscape Architect who was a part of the Garden Cemetery movement, this totally unrelated book was just screaming my name…although I did rationalize reading it instead of my research because murdered people are buried in cemeteries. ;-D
Released in 2013, this 400+ page work is impeccably researched and presented in an eminently readable manner. Flanders covers the vast time frame of the Victorian era (most of the 19th century) as pertains to crime in Great Britain. She tells stories of the rich and the poor, along with the newly rising middle-class. Gleaning insights of these male and female killers (or purported killers) from newspaper articles, broadsides, and theatre productions (as found in the official censorship records of the period), Flanders shares stories of murders thematically. She discusses the great hysteria that led to the “poison panic” at mid-century, the rise of murders as entertainment, court trials as grand theatre, and hangings are festive occasions, as well as the rise of the professional police force, especially the detective. Most fascinating of all are the connections Flanders is able to make between a particular crime (or crimes) and great works of fiction, including most, if not all, of Dickens’ catalog.
Some of the transitions between one crime story and the next feel a little forced, and there are times that she references a particular name in a previous or upcoming story in a way that the reader may have difficulty following, yet these are minor issues in an otherwise compelling narrative. It is apparent that Flanders did extensive research for this book but the effort is not a drag on the text. The tiny snippets of information each source provides have been woven together to tell a cohesive narrative that is better than fiction.