Summer Reading: Four Victorian True Crime Novels

So instead of doing a movie review this week, I have another book recommendation list for all of you. This time, we’re looking at some of my favorite Victorian true crime books. These four books provide just enough history and just enough mystery for the armchair detective historian in all of us.

1. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective, by Kate Summerscale. This book chronicles the infamous murder of little Saville Kent at Road Hill House and its investigation, headed up by Inspector Jonathan Whicher. Unfortunately, Whicher ran into a lot of road blocks while trying to investigate the case, since the murdered boy was from a wealthy family, as were the suspects. It’s said that Inspector Whicher was the inspiration for Inspector Bucket in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, and he was interviewed for one of Dickens’s magazines. Bonus? There’s also a very recent BBC dramatization of the series.

2. The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars, by Paul Collins. This details a case that occurred in June of 1897, the Guldensceppe “Scattered Dutchman” case, which started out when two young boys discovered a man’s torso wrapped tightly in¬†oilcloth on New York’s Lower East Side, blueberry pickers in Harlem found human limbs in a ditch, and a farmer in Long Island saw that water in a duck pond was tinged red with blood. It also tells the story of the rivalry between newspapermen William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer and their race to see who came out on top with the most salacious, most sensational coverage of the murder.

3. Murder in the First-Class Carriage: The First Victorian Railway Killing, by Kate Colquhoun. This novel is about the case of Thomas Briggs, a middle-aged gentleman who was returning home from a family visit. Unfortunately this train ride would be his last, as he was found murdered in a first-class compartment with a bloody hat and a broken watch chain on his body. In a race against time, the investigators must identify and track down the killer before he boards a ship to the United States and escapes justice forever.

4. American Eve, by Paula Uruburu. American Eve is the account of the murder of architect Stanford White by Harry K. Thaw over a love triangle involving beautiful actress and model Evelyn Nesbitt. Thaw, infuriated that his wife had been Stanford White’s mistress, was determined that White should pay for corrupting Evelyn and turning her into a sort of fallen woman. The case sparked national attention and was the talk of New York City during the trial, but the real victim is Evelyn Nesbitt, whose life was forever altered by the machinations of two very selfish men. Most of the research was gathered from Nesbitt’s own memoirs.

Do you have any good true-crime books to share? Or will you be adding any of these to your reading list?

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