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The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime Hardcover – 2011

3.8 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 556 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007248881
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007248889
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.7 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,576,201 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Thomas M. Sullivan on August 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Judith Flanders moved to near the very top of my `must read' list several years ago with her breakout "Inside the Victorian Home," in my judgment one of the best books ever written on the Victorian era in Britain. She followed up with "Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain," which, though well-done and as comprehensive as one could hope for, was not as interesting or compelling as "Inside." Never daunted, I bought her newest, "The Invention of Murder," as soon as it became available, and I must say, I'm again a bit disappointed.

The premise is not only sound, but downright intriguing. The confluence in the early 19th Century of at least the beginnings of leisure time among the laboring classes, the introduction and slow but inexorable growth of mass circulation newspapers, and the much-deferred official attention to not only the detection but the prevention of crime combined to spawn a febrile public interest in significant misdeeds, and, as might be expected, particularly murder.

Flanders undertakes in this book to portray in great detail the most notorious killings and proceeds to paint a vivid picture of how they were given lives of their own, if you will, through serialization, fictionalization, dramatization, and every other `zation' one can conceive. My problem with the work is not its composition because few writers of History can equal Flanders' easy but elegant writing style.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although the title of Judith Flanders's new book is an exaggeration, she goes a long way toward showing that it is not an extreme one. It is _The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime_ (Harper Press, UK), and of course no culture or time "invented" murder. What happened in England during the nineteenth century, however, is that murder became a topic of national interest. She quotes Thomas de Quincey, who wrote in 1826 in _On Murder Considered As One Of The Fine Arts_, about how pleasant it is to read about crimes afflicting someone else; she writes that "... crime, especially murder, is very pleasant to think about in the abstract: it is like hearing blustery rain on the windowpane when sitting indoors." And people did hear about murders in various ways, some of them new for the time; Flanders seems to have read every broadsheet and bad novel that sprang from the many murders she describes here. People enjoyed the shivery sensation that comes with hearing about murderers who afflicted others, and they also enjoyed vicariously the chase after the culprits, something that was never emphasized before because there had been no real detectives or police forces. Murder during the period she describes was changed into a popular entertainment, and not just in "penny-blood" (later known as "penny-dreadful") novels; by the end of the era, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were all getting in on the act.

Some of the crimes here are famous; Flanders winds up with a final chapter that includes the ravages of Jack the Ripper, which in her telling seems a murder spree culmination of all the ones she describes preceding it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was relatively late in reading this book, therefore I shall try not to repeat anything that has already been stated by previous reviewers, hence the brevity of this review.
With her two previously published, critically acclaimed and commercially successful books; "The Victorian House" and "Consuming Passions", Judith Flanders has proven that there is no other contemporary writer that can compare to her knowledge of Victorian society. She returns to that era with this book cataloguing the murders, punishment and society's mixed reactions of fear and insatiable curiosity fed by the sensationalism of contemporary media. Lurid newspaper stories, plays, marionettes, pamphlets, ballads, guided mini-tours, books by popular authors (Conan-Doyle, Dickens, R.L. Stevenson, Collins et al) and wax museums riveted the attention of the public, creating a profitable commodity for entrepreneurs.
Executions were public events attended by multitudes, akin to today's major sports events. In 1823, over forty thousand persons gathered to watch the execution of John Thurtell, who bludgeoned a rival gambler to death and disposed of the corpse in a pond. Twenty years later, the murderous Manning couple had an audience 50,000 people at their hanging. This process was repeated with the many crimes that beset the times.
That was also the time when the London Metropolitan police was created in 1829 with 3,000 men, eventually growing to a force 12,000 officers. New investigating techniques were being developed; forensics and post-mortem autopsies were evolving rapidly, as tools in the hands of trained detectives, in the hunt for criminals.

Flanders enumerates every murder, its grizzly details and graphic cruelty, the investigation leading to the arrest, trial and punishment of the perpetrator.
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