The First Victorian Railway Killing

I’m a sucker for these sorts of books.  In fact, when I received the review copy, my husband joked, “Well, someone said, ‘Let’s write a book for you!'”  It has so many themes I love: mystery, the Victorian era, trains, and a murder trial.  AND it’s British.  
Drawn from the annals of the Old Bailey and newspaper accounts, it traces the murder of one Mr. Thomas Briggs, an older but successful business man who was traveling home via the rail. Among many of the mysterious circumstances are the seeming lack of motive, the sort timespan in which the crime could have been committed and the loss of a hat (In fact, in Britain, this book was titled Mr. Briggs’ Hat).  Even more intriguing is the setting.  The British Victorians had a love/hate relationship with crime even then.  As a society, they were obsessed to the last, bloody detail of the darkest side of human nature — while at the same time obsessed with repressing and destroyed every shred of it within. 
Favored suspect Franz Muller
The book is very well researched and chock full of quotes from eyewitnesses and reports.  Yet all of this studiousness makes it feel at times a bit more academic than a mystery to be solved.  Between an inquest, an extradition and two trials, some of the information begins to feel redundant, if complete.  The author also chooses to italicize the quotes she uses, rather than surround them with quotation marks.  Rather than getting used to it, I found it increasingly distracting.  Still I read happily to the end, devouring the gripping tale of the crime and investigation itself. 
Murder in a First-Class Carriage explores a completely fascinating chapter of Victorian crime that has been lost to time somehow.  I am admittedly obsessed with this idea and often read from The Old Bailey Online for a voyeuristic peek into the past.  This book brings one of those many, dusty stories back to life.


Many thanks to Kate at Overlook Press for the review copy.

Murder in the First-Class Carriage
By Kate Colquhoun 
352 pages
ISBN 13: 978-1-59020-675-1
Trim Size: 6 x 9
Release Date: October 27, 2011