Murder by the Book: The Crime That Shocked Dickens’s London

This book is set in 1840’s London and starts out discussing the murder of Lord William Russell in his Norfolk Street home after he retires to bed for the night to do some reading. He is found the next morning by his servant with his head gaping open from the blow of an ax which has been left nearby. There is evidence of coins and a watch taken, among other things. Lord William had previously complained of a locket with his late wife’s picture inside going missing, that he carried all the time. A doctor is sent for, along with the police, and an investigation is begun. There is also a running commentary with certain authors of the day such as William Ainsworth and Charles Dickens about a couple of their books involving criminal characters, and whether or not they encourage people to commit crimes after reading the books or seeing them acted in plays, as some folks have claimed. Kind of like the debate about violent movies and video games today, and whether they play a part in people committing crimes later after viewing them.

The book is very detailed and gives a lot of connected side information to kind of flesh out the story from just the actual murder. There is also a lot of supposition of various ways the crime might have happened, and who else might have been involved also. It turned out to be a decent true crime book for this time period. My thanks for the advance electronic copy that was provided by NetGalley, author Claire Harman, and the publisher for my fair review.


Publisher: Knopf – 272 pages
Published: March 26th, 2019
RATED: 3.5/5 Stars

The AuthorCLAIRE HARMAN is the author of Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart; Sylvia Townsend Warner, for which she won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize; biographies of Fanny Burney and Robert Louis Stevenson; and Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a frequent reviewer. She divides her time between New York City and Oxford, England.


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