Tag Archives: Victorian London

The Ripper and the Royals

18 May

“The Ripper and the Roylals” by Melvin Fairclough is a fascinating look at the crimes of Jack the Ripper, with ‘evidence’ supplied by Walter Sickert’s son, Joseph.

If you have seen the movie “Murder by Decree” starring Christopher Plummer and James Mason, as well as the TV mini-series “Jack the Ripper” starring Michael Caine and Lewis Collins, then you pretty much know what this book is going to deliver.

The evidence delivered is interesting, compelling almost, but also completely impossible to prove. The evidence includes diaries purported to have been written by Freddie Abberline. As I said, impossible to prove. However, the case stated, whilst highly improbable, is by no means impossible.

For anyone who believes that level of conspiracy could not have been kept quiet, Fairclough makes the very valid point that several members of the Queen’s own family were committed to insane asylums with the news only coming out in the 1980s. I remember when that news broke.

The result is a book that is a genuinely interesting read. Well worth obtaining a copy. I would say it is almost a must read for those interested in the Ripper’s crimes, and the machinations of Victorian society.

Highly recommended.

London’s Underworld

9 Mar

This book was originally published in 1862 as the fourth volume of Henry Mayhew’s ground-breaking sociological work “London Labour and the London Poor”. The edition I read was edited by Peter Quennell and published in 1983 by Bracken Books.

Henry Mayhew was an interesting man. Genuinely interested in the lives of the people he was surveying and deeply compassionate, something that comes across, even through the somewhat turgid mid-Victorian prose.

For me, the major highlight of the book was the interviews with prostitutes, thieves and other outcasts of Victorian society. 160 years later their individual voices ring out clearly making the book an absolutely fascinating read.

This book, picked up at Syber’s of Malvern second hand book shop, is now part of my reference library.

Highly recommended.

A Curious Beginning

2 Nov

“A Curious Beginning” by Deanna Raybourn is the first in the Veronica Speedwell mysteries.

Miss Veronica Speedwell is almost abducted on the afternoon of her aunt’s funeral. A mysterious German baron comes to her aid.

This is the start of a rollicking story that bounces from adventure to adventure like Tigger on a pogo stick.

It’s mostly background setup for the series, but the characters are rounded and interesting.

The heroine is not your usual fainting Victorian damsel, but a strong, intelligent, young woman with a zest for life and a passion for lepidoptery. There is a good range of supporting characters including the grumpy and somewhat enigmatic Stoker.

A fun book. Highly recommended.

The Complete History of Jack the Ripper

10 Oct

“The Complete History of Jack the Ripper” by Philip Sugden was a frustrating book to read.

On one hand the book was a carefully researched and well written look at the murders, including possible suspects, witness reports, police reports, post mortem reports etc, making the book a fascinating read.

On the other hand, the author spent a lot of time bagging the work of other Ripperologists. I felt that it was detrimental to the book. To me it broke up the information flow and irritated me no end.

If you can ignore that aspect, then the book is a worthwhile read.

Wobble to Death

19 Sep

A six-day “Go As You Please” footrace, otherwise known as a ‘wobble’, was a strange phenomenon in the late 19th century. Men basically waled and rested at their own pace along a carefully set out course over a designated time period.

A wobble in Islington, London, is the setting for the first novel about Sergeant Wally Cribb on the London Metropolitan Police.

Peter Lovesey wrote this delightful book for a novel writing competition, which it won.

“Wobble to Death” is a well plotted, well written, crime story with lots of suspects and a satisfying conclusion.

While Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes got me interested in crim fiction, it was Peter Lovesey’s Sgt Cribb who lead me to expand my interest further into the Victorian era.

Although the book is well over 50 years old, it is still a crisp and delightful read. If you want to read it, it is still in print and available from Book Depository.

Sherlock Holmes and the London Particular

13 Aug

“Sherlock Holmes and the London Particular” is part of the American Literati’ series by Daviel D. Victor and published by MX Publishing. The books see Holmes and Watson work with noted American writers of the period. The writer in this book is Richard Harding Davis, whom I freely admit I had not heard of.

Be that as it may, it is still an excellent book with the plot involving a stolen diamond necklace, two corpses and a Russian connection. A plot which made for an intriguing case and a ripping read.

For those that don’t know the London Particular was a type of thick, almost poisonous, fog that frequently filled London. It creates an atmospheric start to the story.

The characters are interesting and the denouement of the case suitably exciting.

Well worth a read. THe book is available directly from MX Publishing: https://mxpublishing.com/products/sherlock-holmes-and-the-london-particular?_pos=1&_sid=28d8159f9&_ss=r

The Holmes-Dracula File

8 May

Criminals are threatening to set loose thousands of plague carrying rats and a there is a killer who leaves a trail of bloodless corpses in his wake. Who is the killer and what, if any, is the connection?

In “The Holmes-Dracula File” by Fred Saberhagen, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle meets Bram Stoker in a truly delightful mash-up.

Holmes and Watson are kept as much in traditional character as possible, given the subject matter.

The story is fast paced and exciting, keeping the reader breathless from page to page. A truly ripping yarn and one in which Holmes and Dracula have much more in common than you would think.

The book was first published in 1978 so physical copies may be hard to obtain. Though the book is still available on Kindle format.

Recommended.

The Instrument of Death

31 Mar

A priceless ruby is stolen, but just as Holmes reveals the truth, the thief, a wealthy titled woman, is found dead. Strangled by a mysterious intruder. A deadly game of cat and mouse begins.

“The Instrument of Death” is another great book from renowned Sherlockian, David Stuart Davies. The book is an enjoyable read. David Stuart Davies has an excellent touch with the characters of Holmes and Watson, and his Lestrade is a little stuffy, but quite acceptable.

The book utilizes the character of Dr. Caligari from the the 1920’s German horror movie “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”. We know from the beginning who the killer is, and how it’s done, so this is less a whodunnit and more a thriller. There are sections of the book that are a little graphic, so if you are at all squeamish this book may not be for you.

As always, David Stuart Davies has a light touch with description: “He wore a pair of heavy dark spectacles on a curved beak of a nose that gave him the appearance of a weary owl.”

“The Instrument of Death” is a fast paced and exciting blend of murder and mesmerism. Highly recommended.

The Real Mary Kelly

7 Feb

Written by Wynne Weston-Davies, “The Real Mary Kelly” is the story of Elizabeth Weston-Davies, who was the real Mary Kelly. Even at the time of her murder police considered her name to be false but could not find the real woman. The real woman who was the final victim of the killer known as Jack the Ripper.

Wynne Weston-Davies, her great-nephew, sets out to bring his great-aunt to life. From her time as lady’s maid to the Marchioness of Londonderry, to an expensive brothel in Kensington, to an ill-advised marriage, to France, to the East End of London, and, finally, to her violent and gruesome death.

Wynne Weston-Davies has written and interesting and well-researched book that gives a degree on insight into the life of the woman that history knows as “Mary Kelly” and also to the man that we believes killed her and the other woman in those dreadful months of 1888.

Well worth a read. recommended.

Waxwork

3 Dec

“Waxwork” by Peter Lovesey was the last of the Sgt Cribb books.

The scene is London in 1888: Mrs Miriam Cromer has confessed to the murder of the assistant to her photographer husband, because he was blackmailing her. Miriam is sentence to death, but before she can be hanged, doubts are cast on her confession. Sgt Cribb is tasked with investigating the matter. Is Miriam Cromer truly guilty of a most heinous murder?

The story is split between Cribb’s investigation and the actions of hangman James Berry in the run up to the execution. The result is a story with verve and bounce that keeps you in its grip right up to the final denouement.

The thing I found interesting was that as I read the book I kept getting mental flashbacks to the television adaptation of the book, which was done around the time of the Granada Sherlock Holmes adaptations. Which only goes to show just how strong the story is.

Highly recommended if you can get hold of a copy.

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