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The Invention of Murder

How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime
Narrated by: Janice McKenzie
Length: 18 hrs and 11 mins
4 out of 5 stars (21 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A deeply engaging and completely original book about nineteenth-century Britain’s fascination with good quality murder.

Murder in nineteenth-century Britain was ubiquitous – not necessarily in quantity but in quality. This was the era of penny-bloods, early crime fiction and melodramas for the masses. This was a time when murder and entertainment were firmly entwined.

In this meticulously researched and compelling book, Judith Flanders, author of Consuming Passions, takes us back in time to explore some of the most gripping, gruesome and mind-boggling murders of the nineteenth-century. Covering the crimes (and myths) of Sweeney Todd and Jack the Ripper, as well as the lesser known but equally shocking acts of Burke and Hare, and Thurtell and Hunt, Flanders looks at how murder was regarded by the wider British population – and how it became a form of popular entertainment.

Filled to the brim with rich source material – ranging from studies of plays, novels and contemporary newspaper articles, A Social History of Murder brings to life a neglected dimension of British social history in a completely new and exciting way.

©2011 Judith Flanders (P)2011 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic Reviews

"It is a world explored with much wit and insight…Flanders is excellent…It’s a rich mix [and]…fluently written…It has every chance of becoming a bestseller."( Sunday Telegraph)

What members say

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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Changed my opinion of Dickens!

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I already have! I'd recommend this to anyone interested in the history of crime fiction, or of Victorian literature. There is a deep understanding of Victorian culture, along with a fascinating exploration of how the crimes of the day influenced many authors and books we now think of as classics, like Dickens, Hardy, Conan Doyle, and even Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker.

What did you like best about this story?

The way the author wove in the crimes gaining media attention and how theatre and literature responded to them. She includes amazing insights into the influences crimes had on Charles Dickens' stories that make me (generally lukewarm on Dickens) want to go back and explore him again.

What about Janice McKenzie’s performance did you like?

The wit, warmth, and occasional sarcasm she brings to her narration perfectly match the author's tone in the book. Pitch-perfect, easy to listen to, and with a good sense of how to get across sensation and scandal.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The tale of one particular woman who was executed for a murder she almost certainly didn't commit -- the book goes into detail of all the flaws in the case against her and really highlights the pathos of her story.

Any additional comments?

This book weaves many threads together: the creation of the Metropolitan Police, social fears and prejudices, issues of class, the development of the crime fiction genre, the influence of real world events on popular fiction, concepts of justice, the development of forensic science, and journalistic ethics all get a say in this remarkably complex history of crime.

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couldn't get into this book

It's difficult to review this book because nothing about it grabbed me, but I have no objective criticism of it. It is true to its title, and is indeed an excellent history of murder and how it was investigated, reported, 'solved', and punished in Victorian times. There are interesting cases and interesting characters and the book is well constructed and well written. Perhaps my inability to get involved stems from the fact that I find the primitive policing methods and prejudices of bygone eras a bit boring (and disturbing) compared with modern investigative and forensic techniques. The book is very competently read, although it seemed to me that the soft voice of the narrator would have been better suited to a romance or novel than a hard-hitting book about murder. Then again, that's subjective and not a valid criticism.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Ian1956
  • 05-29-12

How we once lived

There's a wealth of background histrical research behind this book. It's well-read and has touches of levity. It's essentially a string of murder cases, with the "facts" compared/contrasted with contemporary newspaper, theatical and other opinion. The contrast between how things were done "then" and "now is highlighted. I would have welcomed some occasional editing and a little more overview to provide a chronological context for the "set piece" cases. That said, this is a book that will provide fresh material and insights for both the historian and the literary scholar.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Robert
  • 04-16-11

Murder Tales

This is a competently read version of the bestselling book. It is essentially a string of tales recounting murders and their treatment in the media during the Victorian era, some familiar (Murder in the Red Barn, Jack the Ripper).

Its strength lies in it's episodic nature allowing the listener to dip in and out without losing the thread.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Will
  • 04-05-11

Fascinating

Absolutely brilliant book, informative, knowledgable and interesting :) I've listened to this book at least 20 times and enjoyed every one.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Alex
  • 11-13-13

Interesting

What made the experience of listening to The Invention of Murder the most enjoyable?

The detail and facts!
I am generally not much of a non-fiction reader (or listener) and I chose this book purely by chance after going through a few months of reading murder/crime/mystery novels.
The author didn't shrink back from the facts of the cases or the methods of execution etc used in punishing murders.
I found the narrators voice pleasant to listen to.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Invention of Murder?

I loved the comments that were included from the famous people of the day. There were letters from Wilkie Collins, Charles Dicken and many more on crimes of the time and executions they may have witnessed.

I found it fascinating when it was revealed how many of the cases of the times made it into their works as passing references and sometimes as more.

Any additional comments?

I did find some bits of the audio a little confusing as references would be made to past cases and I would spend the next five minutes trying to remember just what had happened with that one.

A truly fascinating listen on the justice (and not so just in some cases) system of old.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Marie
  • 08-23-13

Murder Victorian Style

This is a well written documentary of murders from a bygone age. Stories of how murderers were found pre forensic science. How murderers even if they had committed suicide were dealt with. Fascinating insight of how people reacted to crime.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Avid reader
  • 08-01-12

Utterly absorbing

My favorite listen yet. Judith Flanders seamlessly meshes literature, theatre, history and crime - all in fascinating detail and with a tongue in cheek humour which is delightful. Lose yourself in the dark psyche of nineteenth century Britain, wonderfully brought to life in the melodious voice of Janice McKenzie. I never tire of listening to it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Squeaky Joe
  • 07-16-19

An enthralling social history of murder

With its subtitle – ‘How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime’, this book traces the British public’s interest in murder as a sort of national entertainment. Though the book’s title clearly suggests we’re talking about the Victorian period (1837-1901), Ms Flanders begins her romp through the gory annals of homicide in 1811, with the Ratcliffe Highway killings, where two families were slaughtered (supposedly) by one John Williams.

Illustrating her research with innumerable murders, the author charts the development of the crime through the media of the time – newspapers, broadsheets, on stage and even in ceramic likenesses of the killers, showing how murderers, and the police officers who caught them, caught the imagination of the whole country.

Being a bit of a connoisseur of Victorian crime, I bought both the audio and paperback versions of this book. I was familiar with many of the cases, and as well as the usual suspects (Burke and Hare, The Mannings, William Corder et al) there were several I hadn’t come across before. Flanders also explores how police investigations changed over the period and the ways in which newspapers and journalists contributed to the guilt (or innocence) of the accused.

The author’s meticulous research shows on every page. Many murders prompted what might be termed fanfiction, and Victorian novelists began to copy the plots of certain killers or created their own detective heroes whose exploits often mirrored that of their real-life counterparts. My only criticism of the book would be that some examples of these dragged on a little too long, with too many accounts of poems, songs and theatre scripts that didn’t add much to the book as a whole. Also, I thought the inclusion of Jack the Ripper (although clearly carried out by a Victorian murderer) didn’t bring anything new to the table and a mere mention in passing would have sufficed.

As a social history of murder and its effects on the British public, this is an exciting and enthralling addition to the true-crime library.

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  • Venta
  • 04-24-19

Well researched

It is a thorough piece of research and it's probably not ideal to have it as an Audible book. It's a book to dip into, lots of murders and plenty of chronicles detailing how they were received. A very approachable work of reference.

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  • twigs way
  • 08-18-18

Interesting analysis

Interesting consideration of Victorian crime with well researched examples of how it was viewed. Some cases cited have been considered elsewhere but even these were placed in a new context for better understanding.

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  • Daniela Crouch
  • 12-24-17

very comprehensive

Great book, very well researched and comprehensive, a lot of food for thought. Shame about the narrator, not a good choice.