August Read: The Invention of Murder by Judith Flanders


So my quarantine pledge to finish all the unread books before I shamelessly buy a new one continues. I bought both the books last year after I got tired of reading disappointing fictional crime novels. The Sentence is Death (The Word is Murder was so good). Into the Water (again, The Girl on the Train). Lethal White (The Silkworm, hello?!!!) Not to mention what abomination that Hannah Brown wrote in the name of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. I was so annoyed after finishing each of those books that I thought it was time to venture into a new genre. And Victorian true crime it was.

The Invention of Murder is a joyride for the crime junkies. Judith Flanders pens her part historic part suspense novel about a society whose keen interest in murder and its aftermath once bordered on grotesque. The stories of various murders both solved and unsolved, the trials, public executions of the culprits (sometimes wrongfully done) and their mass reactions are depicted chronologically in this gem of a book. And of course how these crimes began to be a part of the pop culture through newspapers, theatres and then, literature. Poverty, discrimination among classes, misogyny, infanticide, racism, and a vulgar curiosity to watch people hang -- the Victorian England was one Utopian society apparently. Somehow what I still don't understand how such a messed up race managed to rule a great nation like India for two centuries. They weren't cruel and prejudiced towards only us, but to their own 'working class' as well. Invention of Murder begins with an unsolved mystery and ends with the greatest of all unsolved mysteries -- story of none other than Jack the Ripper. I was almost curious to read what Judith wrote about Agatha Christie but then I later realised she wasn't part of the Victorian era. However, Conan Doyle is there.

Given what is going on with the SSR murder investigation, I couldn't help but feel constant deja vu while reading the Invention of Murder. Passing off a suspicious death as suicide has been an age old practice it seems. As long as the dead doesn't speak one can put anything to fill in the blanks as per convenience. But more on this on a separate post perhaps.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is about the murder of an infant that shook up England back in 1860. Samuel Kent was a middle class man of questionable sexual promiscuity who had multiple offspring from two marriages. His infant son was found murdered and shoved down the privy. Oh Yes. As I said, messed up. Forensic science was an alien subject back then and police was considered as 'working class' people and hence they weren't allowed to investigate freely in middle class or noble households. As the title reads, the case, albeit 'solved', remained an unsolved mystery as per the modern standards. In fact, most the cases mentioned in the previous book will seem so to a modern reader. The Kent murder case too makes an appearance there.

If you love true crime genre and also a history buff, these two will turn out to be unputdownable. And not to mention you can always post snippets while reading to freak people out. Just like I did.

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