Murder By The Book: a juicy slice of Victorian crime with a literary twist

A Sensational Chapter in Victorian Crime!

I devoured it in one sitting!

A brilliant piece of literary detective work!

So scream the review quotes on the cover, which could all be news headlines from Victorian newspapers.

Murder By The Book by Claire Harman is indeed a brilliant piece of detective work.

The book investigates the murder of Lord William Russell, who was found dead in his bed on 6th May 1840 in Mayfair, London.

It sounds like the perfect murder mystery novel but everything here is true. We have the suspects (all three members of Lord Russell’s household: the valet, the cook and the maid) and we have transcripts, articles and letters from that time which really help set the tone and give amazing insight into what Victorian London was like.

Charles Dickens

There is even a fascinating literary twist to the whole tale: the prime suspect suggests that they only carried out the murder because they were inspired by a popular fiction book, which was all about the exploits of a criminal who went around merrily killing and looting.

Hence, Charles Dickens himself is drawn into the tale, as is William Makepeace Thackary.

The crux of the matter is this: could a novel really lead someone to kill?

Even Queen Victoria, who was newly married and pregnant with her first child at the time, wanted to know all the twists and turns of this particular murder trial.

Queen Victoria

I highly recommend this book!

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