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Murder in the First-Class Carriage: The First Victorian Railway Killing Hardcover – November 10, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover; First Edition edition (November 10, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781590206751
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590206751
  • ASIN: 1590206754
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,574,584 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"The author's suspenseful writing style and clear prose make the tale easy to read . . . Colquhoun expertly places the murder within the larger context of British, Continental European and American history . . . Colquhoun successfully balances suspense with historical accuracy."

"Deploying her skill as a historian, Colquhoun turns a single curious murder case into a fascinatingly quirky portrait of the underside of mid- Victorian London. I found it unputdownable."
(--Daily Telegraph)

"[A] thrilling book, which reads at times like a good Victorian novel . . . an utterly compelling did-he-do-it."
(--The Sunday Times)

"An enthralling account of a real life mystery . . . Her well-told tale would stand up in court--unlike much of the evidence in the case." 
(-- The Independent)

"Kate Colquhoun is a fine, robust writer who makes the most of its every twist and turn."
(--The Mail on Sunday)

"The re-telling of this true story pits justice against baying-for-blood hysteria in a sensationally episodic tale that is every bit as compelling as it must have been when it happened."
(--Easy Living)

"A thrilling book, which reads at times like a good Victorian novelŠan utterly compelling did-he-do-it."
(--Sunday Times)

"Enthralling. . . . A fascinatingly quirky portrait of the underside of mid-Victorian London. I found it unputdownable."
(-- Miranda Seymour, The Telegraph)

"The weight of evidence is in the balance to the very end. . . . Mesmerizing."
(--The Guardian)

"Journalist Colquhoun has crafted a marvelously suspenseful account of the investigation, a trans-Atlantic manhunt, and the ensuing trial. This is an intriguing story about emerging forensics and also an engaging social history, focusing on how a spectacular crime, the first on a British railroad, riveted public attention."

"More than a well-spun tale of searching for justice amid hype, Murder in the First-Class Carriage reveals the underside of Victorian life, where interest in the macabre flourished alongside the propriety modern readers may expect. Fans of true crime and the general reader alike will appreciate Colquhuon’s talent for enlivening facts with everyday moments. The story is especially noteworthy for its balance between the case itself and the atmospheric, gas-lit city in which it occurred."
(--Foreword Reviews)

"Ms. Colquhoun’s meticulously researched true-crime account, first published in England, is a tick-tock of the arrest and trial of a German tailor following a chase across the Atlantic…its final revelation is a showstopper."
(--New York Times)

"A suspenseful, well-paced account of a baffling mystery."
(--Washington Post)

About the Author

Kate Colquhoun is the author of The Busiest Man in England, The Thrifty Cookbook, and Taste. As well as writing for several newspapers and magazines, she appears regularly on national radio and television. She lives in London with her husband and two sons.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on November 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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 _ Murder in the First-Class Carriage: The First Victorian Railway Killing_ (Overlook) by Kate Colquhoun. This is a sensational story, 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.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Filumena on December 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The previous reviewer of this book was clearly enthralled with this evocative yet rather ordinary tale of the first recorded homicide on a British passenger railway. I was not. At times I found Ms. Colquhoun's prose dry and disengaged, as if she were simply relaying facts without much thought as to the structure of her narrative. At times she is repetitive and once or twice I had to go back to previous chapters to figure out just who or what she was referring to. Were I not a lawyer I would be hard-pressed to understand her throwaway of the term "prima facie" or her discussions of the British legal system. The facts surrounding the crime itself are based on newspaper accounts as well as the actual courtroom testimony of the mid 1860s, so that the reader's perception is necessarily filtered through the author's take on what might have actually transpired. When all is said and done, however, there isn't much titillation surrounding the crime for 21st century readers to really care about, unless you are a railway enthusiast or are searching for real-crime trivia. What I found most vexing about this book was its total lack of any photographs of the parties involved, the crime scene (even a 21st century photo or two would have been helpful to those of us who are unfamiliar with this area of London), copies of newspaper headlines, etc. What we are given are some 19th century maps that are so small in scale and difficult to decipher that one wonders why the publisher even bothered to print them. While this crime may have been a shocker in its time it barely resonates in the present world where violence and mayhem have plumbed despicable depths.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Aileen L. on December 25, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This could have been a gripping narrative as the subject and surrounding Victorian history are actually quite interesting. However, the style is pedantic and descriptions of various pieces of evidence, chiefly hats and trousers, so detailed that even the most resolute reader will most likely be bored by the end--if he or she gets that far.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In 1864 Britain was a bustling, modern country enamored of the railroad lines which crisscrossed the kingdom. As is so often the case, technological advances had sprinted far ahead of other considerations such as the safety of those who used them. Locomotives often exploded and wrecks were common, and even a journey that did not end catastrophically was fraught with peril because there was no way to communicate between passenger compartments, meaning that you could easily be trapped for minutes or even hours with a robber, rapist, or murderer and have no way to summon help. In July 1864 Thomas Briggs, a wealthy banker travelling home to his family in a London suburb, was set upon and beaten so savagely in his compartment that he died without regaining consciousness. After weeks of investigation, egged on by popular newspapers and public outrage, a suspect was identified. Young Franz Muller, a German immigrant who had behaved suspiciously and who seemed to possess some of Briggs' belongings, was then on his way to America on board a slow sailing ship. Police were sent to arrest and detain Muller and bring him back to London for trial. The public sensation increased during Muller's trial, conviction, and subsequent execution, but there were also many who were troubled by the rush to judgement based on purely circumstantial evidence and by the circus like atmosphere of public executions.

Kate Colquhoun has produced an excellent history of this dramatic crime and its aftermath which ably demonstrates how the technological changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution: railroads, telegraphs, etc., were important factors.
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