truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
Q1: More about Jack the Ripper! Who do you think did it?
Q2: Research -- do you plan your approach, or is it more freeform/serendipitous/falling down rabbit holes?
Q3: Are you exclusively reading true crime? If so, what's that been like? If not, what else are you reading?
[each from a different and lovely reader]

Read more... )
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Sidneyia inexpectans)
Murder & its motivesMurder & its motives by F. Tennyson Jesse

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is extremely dated, with its talk of "moral imbeciles" and its somewhat naive belief that the motives for murder can be neatly separated in 6 categories (gain, revenge, elimination, jealousy, lust for killing, and conviction--she does admit there can be overlap). Jesse is a clear precursor of modern profilers, attempting to figure out what kind of person commits murder and what motivates them, even if her attempts seem clumsy now. And she provides excellent true crime writing. She writes clear and vivid narratives of the crimes of her subjects: William Palmer; Constance Kent; a dreadful pair of siblings, Aime and Aimee de Querangal; Mary Eleanor Pearcy; Thomas Neill Cream; and Felice Orsini, who tried and failed to assassinate Napoleon III. She conveys the horror of murder better than most of the true crime writers I've read, particularly in the chapter on Mrs. Pearcy.

View all my reviews
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (ws: castabella)
Flanders, Judith. The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime. 2011. New York: Thomas Dunne Books-St. Martin's Press, 2013.

Tucher, Andie. Froth and Scum: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and the Ax Murder in America's First Mass Medium. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994.

This is another inadvertant pairing, but even aside from the part where both Flanders and Tucher are talking about murder, they're both talking about popular culture in the nineteenth century and the way the snowballing literacy rate created popular print culture. And how popular print culture addressed the phenomenon of murder.

Tucher is interested in a very narrow window: 1836 to 1841 in New York, from the murder of Helen Jewett by Frank Robinson to the murder of Samuel Adams by John Colt. She is particularly interested in the way these two murders were reported by James Gordon Bennett and the New York Herald and the development of the "objective" style of newspaper reporting. I have some problems with the motivations she ascribes to Bennett (mostly in that I'm not sure he was as self aware as she thinks he was), and it turned out in the last chapter that she was aiming for an argument about journalism that I don't agree with, but the part about the history of the penny press in New York was excellent.

Flanders' is a much larger book, in every sense of the word, larger in scope, larger in outlook, larger in physical dimensions (556 pages vs. 257). Ignore the pretentious title (and the doubly pretentious sub-title): nowhere in her argument does Flanders claim that the Victorians "invented" murder, nor that they "created modern crime." The Invention of Murder is half an overview of the famous murders of the nineteenth century in England, from the Ratcliffe Highway murders to Jack the Ripper. (Although, oddly, Charles Bravo is nowhere to be found.) The other half is an exhaustive teasing out of what happened to those murders (those murderers and those victims) as they were swallowed by the increasingly insatiable maw of Victorian print culture, and the particular ways in which they were fictionalized. Broadsides, pamphlets, newspapers, penny-bloods (later called penny-dreadfuls), novels, plays, puppet shows, waxwork exhibits; she even notes racehorces and greyhounds named for murderers. She also follows the unfolding of detective fiction as a genre and the development of the institution of the police. And if nothing else will convince you of the inadvisability of time travel, the utterly horrific standards of justice in nineteenth-century England should do the trick.

This is a very good book, very well-written, very entertaining. If you're interested at all in the process by which fact becomes fiction, it is endlessly fascinating. In the cases where I know enough to tell, she seems to have her facts straight. (She gets some details wrong about Jack the Ripper, but everybody gets some details wrong about Jack the Ripper, and it's mean to cavil.) I inevitably disagree with some points of her interpretation, but nothing that really gets in the way.

This is not a true-crime book. Flanders pays attention to the victims and the murderers (and the victims of legal murder), but she's interested more in the cultural transmission of their stories than she is in trying to uncover the truth (or "truth," if you're feeling particularly skeptical today) about the murder of Francis Saville Kent, for instance, or Adelaide Bartlett's husband*, or the Marrs and the Williamsons back in 1811. The historiography of murder, rather than the history.

*Frederick Bartlett died from swallowing liquid chloroform. The general consensus is his wife murdered him, but nobody knows how the hell she got him to swallow the stuff.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (ws: hamlet)
Bourke, Angela. The Burning of Bridget Cleary. 1999. New York: Penguin Books, 2001.
King, David. Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris. New York: Broadway Paperbacks-Random House, 2011.
Roughead, William. Classic Crimes. New York: New York Review Books, 2000.
Summerscale, Kate. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective. New York: Walker & Co., 2008.

Bourke, The Burning of Bridget Cleary )

Roughead and Summerscale )

King, Death in the City of Light )


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