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True Crime

The Dublin Railway Murder by Thomas Morris

In November 1856, George Little, a cashier at the Broadstone railway terminus in Dublin was found brutally murdered in his office. With piles of money left lying around, theft did not seem like the motive but in perhaps what was the most perplexing part of the story, the door of the office was locked from the inside. How did the killer escape if not through the door? Top detectives were summoned from London, including the well-known Jonathan Whicher, to no avail. Who did kill George Little?

This true crime has been thoroughly researched by the author and from the outset we are given a clear picture of Dublin and how easy it was for a family to fall into poverty. In a country that had recently suffered from a famine that had killed an estimated one million people and driven a further million away from their homes in the hope of starting a new life, the unexpected death of the chief wage earner could be catastrophic.

There are many aspects to the story which will appeal to fans of true crime and crime fiction alike. The murder itself is well-detailed as is the police investigation and the ensuing trial. There are red herrings a-plenty as we are introduced to a plethora of suspects, the investigators clearly struggling to find the culprit with no clues and unreliable witnesses.

I think that my favourite part of the story is what happened after the trial, the author again showing their meticulous research in order to build up a complete picture of how the case impacted on those involved.

A thoroughly enjoyable discussion on a case that had been previously unfamiliar to me.

Mr Crippen, Cora and the Body in the Basement by Matthew Coniam

The story of the murder of Cora by her husband, the infamous Hawley Harvey Crippen, is one of the most well-known in British true crime history. The discovery of the body after Cruppen fled with his mistress and his subsequent capture has been the subject of many books and documentaries, only for everything we thought we knew being blown away by recent DNA evidence. So what really happened? Matthew Coniam reassesses the case, suggesting a new theory.

Over the years, I’ve read several texts about the Crippens but where this one differs is the amount of research that has evidently been undertaken in order to provide a comprehensive look at this sensational murder. The author has provided a complete overview of the life of Hawley Harvey Crippen, giving an insight into his earlier life and that of his family. I definitely discovered plenty of new information through reading this book, and commend the author for their thorough approach.

Similarly, in light of the recent DNA evidence, we discover numerous alternative explanations as to what really happened at Hilldrop Crescent. Compelling arguments are given that could explain Crippen’s innocence, leaving you with many unanswered questions that may never be answered. It definitely made me look at this case in a different way and I would love to read any follow up work from the author.

With thanks to Pen & Sword and Net Galley.

Killing for Company: The Case of Dennis Nilsen by Brian Masters

When Dennis Nilsen was arrested at his Muswell Hill home, little did the police know that the proverbial can of worms was about to be opened. Within days, the civil servant had admitted to killing fifteen men and the name of Dennis Nilsen was about to be added to the list of Britain’s most notorious murderers. Here, with the assistance of Nilsen himself, Brian Masters tells the detailed story of the ‘Muswell Hill Murderer’.

Ever since watching the TV series, Des, which starred David Tennant as Nilsen, Killing for Company has been a book I have wanted to read. This review is based on the audiobook which is superbly read by Jason Watkins, the actor who played Brian Masters, the author of this book.

This is a very in depth look at the life of Nilsen and I particularly enjoyed the earlier chapters which chronicled his childhood in Scotland. The research into his family life was very detailed, and it was fascinating learning about the history of his family and how certain events could have, possibly, played a pivotal role in what was to happen in the future.

The details of his crimes are not for the faint of heart although I do not feel that the descriptions are too graphic. For me, the most chilling part of this case is Nilsen’s ability to carry on with life as normal, knowing that there were the remains of several young men at his home. While Masters makes it clear that some of Nilsen’s stories may not be 100% true, he certainly provides a valuable insight into what became one of the murder cases of the century.

This is a well-written, superbly-researched book that provides a fascinating look into the life and crimes of one of Britain’s most infamous killers.

Did She Kill Him? by Kate Colquhoun

In 1889, there was outrage as the young American, Florence Maybrick, stood trial for the murder of her Liverpool-born, cotton merchant husband, James, at their home, Battlecrease House. Found guilty, and sentenced to death, this was later commuted to life imprisonment and, after many years of campaigning from her supporters, she was released. Kate Colquhoun examines the events leading up to the death of James Maybrick, the trial and the aftermath of what became a public scandal. Was Florence really the femme fatale as painted by many or was she simply a victim of an extremely biased justice system that clearly seemed to favour the male?

I first read this book when it was published as, being from Liverpool, this is a case that has always held a fascination with me. I decided to revisit it by listening to the audio book which is wonderfully read by Maggie Mash, even if her pronunciation of the word ‘Aigburth’ did frustrate me! (I daresay only locals would pick up on this!)

Kate Colquhoun does a superb job in providing an unbiased account of the life of the Maybricks, from their meeting, to their marriage and, ultimately, their deaths. It is clear how much research has gone into this book, and, even as someone who has read a lot about this ‘murder’, I learned a lot. It is clear that this was a completely mismatched couple, Florence looking for a man to provide her with the lavish lifestyle she felt she should have, and James wanting a younger wife he could show off to his colleagues at the cotton exchange.

The medical evidence in this case is particularly fascinating, Florence having been convicted of murdering her husband with arsenic. Doubt is cast as to whether there was enough arsenic in his body to kill him, especially when anecdotal evidence suggests that he actually took arsenic on a regular basis. Was evidence deliberately hidden in order to paint Florence in a bad light by a Victorian society who were outraged by her extra-marital relationship?

This is a well-written book that certainly makes you think about whether it was a safe conviction or whether she was tried on the basis of her womanhood. A fascinating look at the attitudes of late-Victorian Britain.

Inside 10 Rillington Place by Peter Thorley

The events that occurred at 10 Rillington Place in the 1940s and 50s have become the subject of numerous books, documentaries, television serials and films. How much of this, however, paints an accurate picture of what actually happened? This is something that the author has tried to answer, using his first-hand experience of the house to discuss the real personalities of the two convicted killers that lived there: John Reginald Halliday Christie and Timothy Evans.

Before I give my opinion of the book, a little background information is needed for those unfamiliar with the case. In 1949, Timothy Evans was charged with the murder of his wife, Beryl, and his young daughter, Geraldine, whilst the family were living at 10 Rillington Place. Evans was, the following year, found guilty and was hanged at Pentonville Prison. In 1953, a horrific discovery occurred at the house when the bodies of several more women were found hidden in an alcove. Christie was subsequently arrested, he too being hanged at Pentonville. How probable was it that there were two unconnected murderers living at the house at the same time? With much of Evans’ prosecution evidence coming from Christie, there were questions asked about the fairness of his trial. Consequently, in 1966, Evans received a posthumous pardon for the murder of his daughter although it was still deemed likely that he had killed his wife.

I have read quite a lot about this case over the years, but this was the first time I’d read something from the perspective of someone so personally involved. The author, Peter Thorley, was Beryl’s younger brother and was someone who spent a bit of time at 10 Rillington Place visiting his sister and young niece. His insights into Beryl and Timothy’s life was fascinating, painting a picture of a truly unhappy marriage, with Beryl being the victim of her husband’s anger on practically a daily basis. I had great sympathy for Peter who, as her younger brother, felt powerless to help and angry that no one else in the family would listen to his fears.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was Peter’s attitude towards Christie. The young Peter certainly didn’t see a murderous side to him, and he actually felt that he liked children. Could this man, therefore, really have been responsible for the death of young Geraldine or were the original charges correct and Evans did actually kill his young daughter? The author definitely gives food for thought.

While this is a comprehensive account of the events at 10 Rillington Place, for me this was more about getting to know Beryl. In everything I have read and seen, there has never been a focus on the victim, something which Peter Thorley has put right here. My heart went out to Peter who found himself on the other side of the world when the murder happened, unable to be there for his beloved sister.

If you have an interest in true crime, I can thoroughly recommend this book. It is a well-written account of an infamous murder case with a personal slant which takes you right into the heart of 10 Rillington Place. I commend Peter Thorley for telling Beryl’s story.

With thanks to Net Galley and Mirror Books for my copy.

**PUBLICATION DAY PUSH** Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper of Whitechapel by M K Wiseman

The famous consulting detective Sherlock Holmes has been tasked by Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard to assist in the hunt for the notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper. Initially reluctant to join in the investigation, Holmes has to go it alone due to the recent marriage of his faithful partner, John Watson. The case takes a sudden turn, however, when the detective identifies a possible prime suspect – none other than Watson himself…

As someone who has a huge interest in the Jack the Ripper case and is also a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, this book ticked all the boxes for me! Over the years, I have read many takes on the identity of the Whitechapel murderer, and thought that everything that could have been written on this subject has already been done. I was pleased therefore, to see a new slant and was intrigued to see how the author would mix fictional characters with such a well-documented case.

This is a well-written pastiche of Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories which could almost be written by the author himself. The style and language took me straight back to the likes of A Study in Scarlet with one difference – this case is penned by Holmes himself, the usual scribe, Dr Watson being the subject of much of the detective’s musings.

We discover quite early on that Holmes has suspicions about his friend and I really like how the author keeps you waiting until near the end to discover whether these suspicions are well-founded. Like Holmes, I could not believe that Watson could possibly commit such heinous crimes, but the evidence definitely seemed to fit… You will have to read the book yourself to see the outcome!

Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper of Whitechapel is quite a short book so if you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes who is looking for a quick read with an engaging plot, then this could be the book for you. Thoroughly enjoyable.

With thanks to M K Wiseman and to Rachel from Rachel’s Random Resources.


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Poisoned at the Priory by Antony M Brown

In 1876, disaster struck the London area of Balham when Charles Bravo, a newly-married lawyer, was found to have ingested an unknown poison, ultimately killing him. Initial evidence seemed to show that it was a case of suicide, an inquest ending with an open verdict. Such was the interest in the case, however, a second inquest returned a verdict of willful murder, with no guilty party ever brought to justice. Poisoned at the Priory, the fourth in the Cold Case Jury series, examines the evidence, inviting the reader to draw their own conclusions – was it suicide and, if not, who did kill Charles Bravo?

I really enjoyed the previous Cold Case Jury book, Move to Murder, and so I was delighted to see that the author had decided to tackle an unsolved crime that I have, for a long time, been intrigued by. The main players in the story are like characters straight out of a Victorian crime novel: the young, wealthy wife with a dubious past, the controlling husband, reliant upon his wife’s fortune and the lady’s companion, keen to keep her position, whatever the cost. In Poisoned at the Priory, Antony M Brown gives a complete picture of the lives of these characters, his extensive research being apparent.

The thing I like most about these books is that all theories are presented to you, the evidence for each one being given to help you make up your own mind as to what actually happened. I think that this is a great idea as in other books of this genre, what you generally get is an overview of what happened, the presented evidence pushing you towards the author’s way of thinking. Instead, we are presented with four theories, some more plausible than others, and we are even treated to the opinion of the great mystery writer Agatha Christie. I have always had my own theory about this case and after reading Poisoned at the Priory, it has not changed. I will let you decide for yourself though!

Although this is the fourth in the series, you do not need to have read any of the previous books as each one is a self-contained case. If you have an interest in true crime, then this is a series I can highly recommend and you won’t go far wrong by starting with this one.

With thanks to Net Galley and Mirror Books for my copy.



The Hidden Lives of Jack the Ripper’s Victims by Robert Hume

People all over the world are familiar with the name ‘Jack the Ripper’, the infamous serial killer who, in 1888, slaughtered at least five women in the Whitechapel area of London. Interest in the case has never waned, with detectives and amateur sleuths determined to work out the identity of the man who instilled terror in the women forced to ply their trades on the streets. But what about the identities of the victims? Their names, Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly are well-known, but what of their lives? Robert Hume aims to show us that these women were more than just the victims of the Whitechapel killer.

Ever since watching the TV mini-series ‘Jack the Ripper’ starring Michael Caine and Lewis Collins, I have had an interest in the serial killer and, as a result, have developed a penchant for Victorian crime fiction and non-fiction. Whereas a lot of real-life crime books devote much of their content to the victims, the early lives of those taken by the Whitechapel killer have been shrouded in mystery. Earlier this year, I read the brilliant The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold, and so I was pleased to discover that another author has taken on the task of bringing these unfortunate women back into the public eye.

Although there are brief discussions about the crimes and some statements from eye-witnesses, the focus is placed firmly on the women and their lives prior to their untimely deaths. This is done in a very readable way and it was easy to picture the squalid streets and the circumstances the destitute found themselves in. Robert Hume paints a very vivid picture of Whitechapel with its crime-ridden passages where the only refuge for most people was in one of the numerous public houses. It is hard to feel nothing but sympathy for these women who, often through no fault of their own, found themselves selling themselves on the street just to find a bed for the night.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the book was the many photos that accompanied each woman’s story, whether it be images of the victims themselves or of the area in which the crimes were committed. It is good to see the women in happier times instead of just in the mortuary photos that feature in most other books about the subject.

The Hidden Lives of Jack the Ripper’s Victims  is a very readable book for anyone interested in finding out a bit more about the five canonical victims or, indeed, for anyone interested in the social history of the poor in the Victorian era.

With thanks to Pen and Sword History and Net Galley for my copy.


The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

One of the greatest unsolved mysteries is the identity of the Victorian serial killer known as Jack the Ripper. Ever since the murders of 1888, there have been countless books, films and documentaries, all giving their opinions of what really happened. How much do we actually know about the victims, however? In The Five, Hallie Rubenhold aims to right this wrong by painting a picture of Mary Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly, focusing not on their death, but on the lives they led before they met their untimely end.

The crimes of Jack the Ripper have always intrigued me and I have read countless books, each author giving their own take on who the culprit actually was. Over the years, though, I have read very little about the victims and their lives before they became known throughout the world. What we do know has mainly come from witness testimonies from the time and also from the numerous contemporary news reports. It became apparent quite early on in the book that although the author has certainly used these sources of information, she has gone far beyond this, her research being thorough and highly informative.

It is always thought that the five canonical victims were murdered by a man intent on killing prostitutes, but one of the first things that Hallie Rubenhold does is make you question this. Could some of these women have been homeless, sleeping in the yards where they were found? This idea has certainly given me a new take on the crimes and made me look at these women in a completely different way.

It was fascinating reading about the early lives of the women, and wonderful to be able to build up a bigger picture of who they actually were. I found it incredibly sad to read how most of them could have had completely different lives but for the circumstances they suddenly found themselves in. Despite the murders happening over 130 years ago, I could see the parallels in the lives of too many people today, finding themselves homeless due to bereavement, addictions or unemployment. My heart really went out to these women who were trying everything they could to survive.

The Five provides a respectful, moving portrait of the women we have come to know as Jack the Ripper’s victims. If you have any interest in the Victorian era, social history or true crime, then I cannot recommend this book highly enough. A superb read.


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