Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Murder by the Book – Claire Harman

Non-Fiction
4*s

Another book in this year’s favourite topic; Victorian true crime, with the crime in this case committed in the early part of the young Queen’s reign. It was 6 May 1840 when Lord William Russell was found lying on his bed with his head almost severed. Quite a shock for the servants who found him. This isn’t a story from the backstreets of Whitechapel either, rather the scene of the crime was on a smart street in Mayfair.

The crime itself was shocking enough and kept those who followed the subsequent investigation duly scandalised, and to be fair, frightened. If a crime like this could happen in Mayfair, was anywhere safe in these ‘modern times’? What worried everyone even more though was when a culprit was found and questioned. The story he gave was that he’d changed from a former gentle young man to savage murderer because of his reading matter – the best selling crime novel of the day being Jack Sheppard by William Harrison Ainsworth. A book that had gained a widespread following in part due to the rising levels of literature amongst the lower classes. Given that the story was of a daring (and dashing) jail-breaker in the style known as a Newgate Novel. The key to success for writers at this time were to be published as serials in the style of Charles Dickens and coincidentally Jack Sheppard appeared in some of the same editions of Bentley’s Miscellany as Oliver Twist himself and it seems Ainsworth jumped on the popular genre of the day and with a bit of slang and plenty of references to robbery and violence with a dollop of romance, the public couldn’t get enough. Giving the novel even more realism Jack Sheppard was a well-known criminal in 18th-century London.

The author of our book, Claire Harman goes onto describe how the theatres were quick to put their adaptions of the novel on the stage so aspiring criminals didn’t have to read the book itself for the power of crime to seep into the bones until it would seem that there was hardly a man or woman in the land from the lowliest to the mightiest who hadn’t read or watched Jack Sheppard’s daring dos.

The newspapers who were as quick back then as now to have something concrete to blame. Newgate Novels were held up as the cause of the murder of Lord William Russell and Jack Sheppard in particular. All of this is terrifically interesting especially the reaction of Ainsworth’s former friends including Charles Dickens who went out of his way to explain why Oliver Twist wasn’t a Newgate Novel despite many of the themes in the two books being remarkably similar.

Needless to say for all the hoo-ha the books continued o be popular but Ainsworth toned down the writing style in subsequent books and was never as successful again.

Unfortunately from an interest perspective this wasn’t the most exciting of investigations as the police fairly quickly alighted on their main suspect, although of course from this distance of time and knowing how few scientific resources the police had to use, there is always a level of wonder about the apprehension of the right man. The interest comes from the reading matter of our ancestors who’d have thought a book could cause quite such a stir? This alongside the interesting legal facts the author presents from the day meant that the result was I felt I’d got some real insight into social history from an unusual angle.

I’d like to thank the publishers Penguin Books UK for allowing me to read a proof copy of Murder by the Book. This review is my unbiased thanks to them.

First Published UK: 25 October 2018
Publisher: Penguin Books UK
No of Pages: 224
Genre: Non Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Wicked Cometh – Laura Carlin

Historical Fiction
3*s

This dark Victorian tale that vividly creates the underbelly of life of the times in a similar style to Sarah Waters’ early books covering the same period.

The year is 1831 as The Wicked Cometh opens and we are treated to an alarming newspaper cutting:

‘This newspaper has taken note that the past month has been remarkable for the prevalence of cases where men, women and children are declared missing. Scarcely a week passes without the occurrence of an incident of this type’

Down the dark alleys we go, through the putrid mud, into a room with damp walls, a mud floor and precious little to eat although the master of the house always manages to find a shilling for his sup of gin and we meet Hester White who lives with the occupants Jacob and Meg and their twin children having lost her parents in her native Lincolnshire and been taken in by the pair and moved to London. The family is now down on their luck and Hester is desperate to find a way out.

With the sights, sounds and smells excellently depicted there is no doubting that this is an atmospheric read and Hester is a likeable and lively protagonist to lead us on the dreadful journey and one that has us meeting all sorts of likeable and frankly revolting characters along the way whether the mode of transport is by carriage or shank’s pony.

The first half of the book really sets the scene and at times this seems a bit too meandering for my tastes with those like Hester who are left to live by their wits being compared to the well-heeled who quaff wine and dress in exotic clothes whilst carrying out good deeds in their spare time. So we meet the Brock family, the surgeon son, his spinster sister Rebekah and the old gentleman Septimus, the one who holds the purse-strings and therefore gets to make the rules. And Septimus wants Rebekah married but it doesn’t take a genius to work out why this scholarly woman is not really cut out for the life of a lady who wafts around. By coincidence some of the missing have links with the Brock household and Rebekah is trying to work out where they have gone.

There are plenty of characters and at times I confess got a little confused as they blended into one sorry tale after another, never really quite being distinct enough to merit a full role in the drama.

The pace really picks up in the second half of the book with the investigation into the ever-growing number of missing, those who are invisible except to those who read the increasingly long list of names pinned to a hoarding in the hopes that someone will know where they are. There is action and danger, a need to win trust to prise the secrets out and to know who to divulge the snippets to, how trustworthy are the new Bow Street Runners and will they do something to help?

There is a lot to enjoy in this terrible tale, one where the gloom is never far away in those dank and dreary times told with pleasingly consistent prose.

I’d like to thank the publishers Hodder & Stoughton for allowing me to read an advance copy of The Wicked Cometh; this review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 1 February 2018
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Historical Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read

Tea by the Nursery Fire – Noel Streatfeild #20booksofsummer

Book 12

Non-Fiction 3*s
Non-Fiction
3*s

Having read practically every children’s novel written by Noel Streatfeild as a child I then had mixed emotions last year on reading the original adult novel The Whicharts which was later reworked for children as Ballet Shoes. This year I decided to try another book by this author, a biography of a nanny in Victorian Britain which was the last book the author wrote in 1976 at the age of 80. When reading the below review, this should be borne in mind as if I can write anything comprehensible at that age, I’ll be exceptionally proud of myself.

Tea by the Nursery Fire purports to tell the tale of the nanny who started work at Longton Place as a nanny to the children, Noel’s father and his siblings in the 1890s, although of course this was not long before Noel herself was born. Despite this unnerving discrepancies and having devoured the author’s autobiographical trilogy which began with The Vicarage Family, I was fully aware that the setting should have been that of a clergyman and Longton Place was not, the first two thirds of the book was an interesting view of life as a servant at a time when it was still possible to become a family retainer.

The last third was quite an abrupt end to Emily’s story with whole decades passing by in a flash as the first family of children grew up and produced offspring to care for on high days and holidays only.

The tale itself walked a line between the hard life of a girl of twelve, sent away to become a servant to make room for the ever growing brood of children her parents produced, and the enjoyment a servant could gain from taking a post that allowed her to use the skills of mothering she had learnt at her mother’s knee.

I have to confess the writing was fairly consistently clumsy and depended greatly on this reader’s nostalgia for her children’s books, partly because it isn’t clear whether this book was aimed at those child readers themselves, or those of us who are slightly older although I’m glad to say it steers well clear of being patronising.

As a snapshot of social history, it works well enough but the tone being told through family stories passed down when Emily was in old age, lacks any real insight into the subject herself which is a great shame as the story without it feels as though it has been painted with very light brush-strokes.

Not my favourite of Noel Streatfeild’s books by a long way but not a bad little book for some insight into the tales those who worked across the turn of the century told to those they loved.

First Published UK: 1976
Publisher: Virago
No of Pages 224
Genre: Non-Fiction (Social History)
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Weekly Posts

This Week In Books (April 29)

This Week In Books

Hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found my Wednesday post gives you a taste of what I am reading this week. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words

I am currently reading The Duke, His Secret Wife and The Missing Corpse by Piu Marie Eatwell

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse

You can read the blurb and opening paragraph in yesterday’s post

I have recently finished If She Did It by Jessica Treadway

If She Did It

Blurb

What if you began to suspect your child of an unspeakable crime?
When Dawn introduces her family to her new boyfriend, Rud, they hide their unsettled feelings because they’re glad that Dawn, always an awkward child, seems to have finally blossomed.
Then Dawn’s parents are savagely beaten in their own bed, and though Hanna survives, Rud stands trial for Joe’s murder. Claiming her boyfriend’s innocence, Dawn initially estranges herself from everyone she knows, but when Rud wins an appeal, Dawn returns home saying she wants to support her mother.
Hanna knows that if she could only remember the details of that traumatic night, she could ensure her husband’s murderer remains in jail. But Hanna hadn’t realised that those memories may cause her to question everything she thought she knew about her daughter… NetGalley

My review will follow soon

Next I am planning on reading What She Left by T.R. Richmond

What She Left

Blurb

Who is Alice Salmon? Student. Journalist. Daughter. Lover of late nights, hater of deadlines.
That girl who drowned last year.
Gone doesn’t mean forgotten.
Everyone’s life leaves a trace behind.
But it’s never the whole story.
“I will stand up and ask myself who I am. I do that a lot. I’ll look in the mirror. Reassure myself, scare myself, like myself, hate myself. My name is Alice Salmon.”
When Alice Salmon died last year, the ripples from her tragic drowning could be felt in the news, on the internet, and in the hearts of those closest to her. However, the man who knows her best isn’t family or a friend. His name is Professor Jeremy Cooke, an academic fixated on piecing together Alice’s existence. Cooke knows that faithfully recreating Alice, through her diaries, text messages, and online presence, has become all-consuming. But he does not know how deep his search will take him into this shocking story of love, loss and obsession where everyone – including himself – has something to hide . . . Amazon

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

What have you found to read this week?

See what I’ve been reading in 2015 here