Posts Tagged ‘crime’

Murder, Suicide or Accident

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley.

This is a reissue of a book first published in the early 1970s so if you’re looking for current information you won’t find it here.  That said, it is an interesting and worthwhile read for anyone who is interested in crime in the real world or crime in fiction.  I should think it would be very useful to any authors writing crime novels set in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

The book covers the court system, as it was then when Crown Court sessions were called Assizes and the CPS were referred to as the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions).  It also covers the various jobs which pathologists do around violent and natural deaths.  I found the examples of real cases interesting as well as the imaginary case which demonstrates what happens at every stage of dealing with a dead body where murder is suspected. Readers will notice that no one at the time wore protective clothing so there was a danger of crime scenes being contaminated.

The author writes well and makes a complicated subject accessible to the lay reader.  I found it an interesting read. Some may find the attitudes to alleged rape victims difficult to accept but these were the prevailing attitudes at the time and the book needs to be read in the context of the times in which it was written.


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Jane Doe January: My Twenty-Year Search for Truth and Justice

In no way could this disturbing book be called an enjoyable read.  That said, it is as gripping as any thriller and as compelling.  The author was raped in 1992.  More than twenty years later and living in a different country it seems as though her rapist has been caught.  In 1992 in Pittsburgh Emily Winslow was a drama student when she was attacked in her apartment and raped.  This was no date gone wrong but an appalling attack by a stranger.

This well written, disturbing and intensely personal memoir tells the story of that attack and its aftermath and how the author faced and dealt with the perpetrator’s arrest and trial over twenty years later.  By that time she was married with two children and living in Cambridge, England so the arrest and trial meant many trips across the Atlantic.

Ultimately this is the memoir of a survivor and it will provide hope for those who have been attacked in similar circumstances.  It shows graphically how the author’s thoughts and feelings oscillated from day to day through all the human emotions as she was forced to relive the rape time and time again.  I recommend this book to anyone who has been attacked and is struggling with the aftermath and to anyone who wants to know how a victim feels and how she rebuilds a life for herself.

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Robert Coombes and his brother Nattie seemed to have a lot of money to spend and they were eating out and generally enjoying things such as cricket matches which were normally reserved for treats.  At first no one was particularly suspicious. Their father was a seaman and he had just set off on a trip to New York and they boys said their mother was visiting relatives in Liverpool.

Family friend, John Fox, seemed to be spending time with the boys, which wasn’t unusual.  Then in the blazing heat of the July  sun the horrible smell started to emanate from the house where the boys live and relatives called the police.  The discovery they made was horrible enough to turn the stomachs of even the most hardened policeman.

This is the story of a child murderer as well as an examination of the ‘penny dreadfuls’ which were the standard reading fare for many young boys and men.  These were tales of adventure and bravery but also of violence.  Did they have an effect on Robert and influence his actions?   The book shows an interesting side to Victorian society which is generally seen as harsh and unforgiving.

As well as being the story of a murder it is the story of hope and redemption and an examination of  the beginnings of psychiatry and the study of mental illness which was then in its infancy.  I found this book compelling reading and I thought it was well researched and well written.  It gave me a different view of the way the Victorians treated some sections of the criminal fraternity.

The book contains extensive notes on the text. If you like reading true crime and enjoyed the same author’s ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ then you will probably find this book of interest.  I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review.

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John George Haigh, the Acid-Bath Murderer: A Portrait of a Serial Killer and His Victims

This is an excellent and very thoroughly researched book about Haigh – the so-called acid bath murderer. In actual fact he destroyed his victims’ bodies in metal drums containing acid and the emotive description came from newspaper headlines.

I found this an interesting read though Haigh himself doesn’t come out of it as a terribly likeable character even if you leave out the murders.  He wanted the good things in life and had the ability to make enough money for himself if he’d been prepared to work hard.  Unfortunately he didn’t like hard work and had a huge sense of entitlement which led him to adopt crime as a means of obtaining the wherewithal to live the life he wanted to live.

Haigh murdered people he befriended once he’d found out they had money or property which he could appropriate.  His victims were mainly people who had few friends who would raise the alarm if they disappeared.  He did however misjudge his last victim’s closest friend and as a result he was arrested.

The book has plenty of source references, a bibliography and a selection of illustrations as well as an index.  If you just want to read one book about this case then this has to be one of the best ones to read in my opinion.


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A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie (Bloomsbury Sigma)

This is a well written and very informative book about poisons and how Agatha Christie used them in her novels and short stories.  You don’t need to have read the books to find this book interesting as it will be of interest to anyone who reads crime novels.  Christie did have professional knowledge of poisons before she started writing full time so it is perhaps not surprising that the details in her books are accurate.

Each poison has a section to itself and the author relates the history of the substance and its uses, if any, in medicine as well as a poison.  How easy or difficult it would have been to obtain the poison at the time Christie’s books or stories were written is also detailed together with the ways the law has changed since then.  Real life poisoning cases are also detailed. How the poison works and its chemical make up are also covered and I have to confess to skipping some of the more technical passages as I found my O level chemistry was not really up to the task.

But the chemical details make up a very small part of the text and not always being able to understand these small sections did not spoil my enjoyment of the whole book which is a mine of information.  There are two appendices to the book – one a detailed list of all Christie’s books with causes of death of the victims and the other one showing chemical diagrams for all the poisons discussed. There is a bibliography and an index as well.

This is a fascinating book for anyone who loves Agatha Christie’s writing and for anyone who reads crime novels or true crime.

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Trials of Passion: Crimes in the Name of Love and Madness

This is a fascinating study of a selection of murder and attempted murder cases from England, France and the US during the latter years of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century.  The cases covered are mainly what French law refers to as crimes of passion where people are apparently overcome with passion or jealousy and kill or attempt to kill their rivals or their lovers.  The book also shows how differently the subject of madness, temporary or permanent was treated by the courts in these three countries.

The book covers crimes perpetrated by both men and women but it also assesses how differently women were treated by the courts in all three countries and how they are often still treated now.  If the women on trial were regarded as conforming to the cultural stereotype of the time and were seen as helpless and feminine but overcome by the power of their emotions they were more likely to be deemed to be temporarily insane and confined for treatment rather than being sent to prison or sentenced to death.

However if women were seen to be too intelligent and self controlled then they were more likely to be found guilty and disapproved of by society.  Men, if they were seen to be acting in response to infidelity on the part of their lovers or wives were more likely to be hailed almost heroes by killing their rivals.  They were seen as representing the most admired qualities of masculinity and protecting the fortress of their families.

Of course, in spite of all these nuances, money talks and the case described here in which a millionaire kills a former lover of his wife’s results in a verdict of temporary insanity and incarceration for a relatively short time in a mental hospital and subsequent release.  By most people’s standards the murderer was permanently insane, not just temporarily and eventually he was declared insane.

The author certainly knows her subject and has studied it in depth and I found the book fascinating to read though it is quite complex in places.  There are notes on the text as well as a bibliography and index.

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Crime Fiction: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)

If you want to know about crime fiction then this is probably not the book to read.  If you did read it before reading any crime fiction it would put you off for life.  The author seems not to like crime fiction in any shape or form.  Yes the book rehearses the usual historical origins of the genre with Wilkie Collins being tentatively awarded the accolade for first detective story in English with The Moonstone’ So far, so good I thought.  But when the author starts to criticise Collins for class consciousness my suspicions were aroused.

The author writes reasonably about Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes though I sense he disapproves of the character and cannot quite understand his continued popularity.  It is when it comes to discussing the Golden Age of British and American crime fiction that all his prejudices come to the fore.  The plots are formulaic, the authors snobs and the writing is riddled with class prejudice, racism and anti-Semitism.

I’ve got news for the author – these were the prevailing attitudes in the 1920s and 1930s.  They were still the prevailing attitudes in the 1950s when I was growing up.  The authors were writing about a world they knew.  You cannot remove the author from the context of the times they were living in.  As an academic the author should know that.

He is slightly kinder to American noir crime fiction but not by much.  It seems he regards that as more realistic – and realism is everything apparently.  By this time I was finding it quite difficult to read the book without either defacing it or throwing it at the nearest wall. It seems to me that the author read Julian Symonds’ ‘Bloody Murder’ and took it as gospel truth rather than what it is, a somewhat jaundiced look at the genre.

The author is equally critical of later twentieth century authors including P D James and Ruth Rendell but seems to regard Bill James, Martin Amis and Jake Arnott as good crime writers.  He also expresses perplexity over the huge sales of the Scandinavian crime writers in recent years as he cannot seem to understand how anyone could like them.

The book does have notes on the chapters and a list of further reading and there are some useful books listed in that but if you’re looking to start reading the genre then you would do best to look elsewhere for ideas of where to start though you could start with some of the authors criticised in this book and read them with an open mind.

I am astounded that Oxford University Press could have commissioned this book from someone who clearly regards crime fiction as little better than entertainment for the uneducated masses.

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