MURDER BY THE BOOK:
A SENSATIONAL CHAPTER IN VICTORIAN CRIME
I first became aware of the murder of Lord William Russell while researching the life of Charlotte Brontë, as it was one of the most sensational news stories of 1840 and kept cropping up in the letters and journalism of her contemporaries, especially Thackeray and Dickens. It was a brutal crime: the elderly Lord William was killed in his bed, his throat cut so deeply that his head was almost severed. Thackeray and Dickens followed the investigation of the murder with intense interest and both men attended and wrote about the execution of the murderer, which in itself seemed to me a rather surprising fact. What was the story behind the death of this Mayfair aristocrat, and why were writers particularly interested in it?
Looking for answers to these questions took me on an exciting voyage of discovery and an investigation of my own: looking back at police records, newspapers and legal archives was like opening up a 178 year old cold case. I found a remarkable number of fascinating leads (and a few red herrings) along the way, and connections with a host of famous contemporary figures, including Queen Victoria, Elizabeth Barrett, Edgar Allen Poe and a raven called Grip. The resulting book is a mixture of true crime and literary history, and I hope that readers enjoy reading it half as much I enjoyed bringing this gory but fascinating chapter of Victorian life to light.
* * * Chosen as one of The Guardian‘s ’50 Biggest Books of Autumn 2018’: click to read * * *
Murder by the Book is published in the UK by Penguin Books on 25 October 2018 and by Alfred A. Knopf in the US in March 2019.
From the reviews:
‘This beautifully produced and impressively researched historical account of a celebrated Victorian murder with a literary twist reads like a thriller. I devoured it in one sitting, and was at once enthralled and chilled. Highly recommended!’ (Alison Weir)
‘a brilliant piece of literary detective work’ (Evening Standard)
‘thrilling […] enthralling’ (The Oldie)
‘A fascinating portrait of Victorian London amid the rising popularity of the novel’ (The Observer)
‘[A] riveting investigation into a transgression that scandalised the literati of Victorian London in 1840. An engrossing fireside festive treat’ (The Bookseller)
‘[Harman is] a superlative storyteller. The book’s heft lies in its rich detail. In fact, characters and settings are so vivid that Murder by the Book will surely soon be snatched up by television producers seeking their next Victorian crime drama.’ (Mail on Sunday)
‘vivid and punchy’ (The Spectator)
‘A riveting investigation into a true and vicious murder that shocked Victorian London’ (Woman & Home)
‘A fascinating account…. As Harman skilfully reveals, the real story behind the famous murder is the complex one about the harmful influence of fiction on the mind of the reader.’ (The Times)
26 September – The Farnham Society, St Thomas on the Bourne, Farnham
13 October – Durham Book Festival
1 November – University Women’s Club, 2 Audley Square, Mayfair
12 November – Richmond Literature Festival
6 April 2019 – Oxford Literary Festival
12 April 2019 – Scarborough Books by the Beach
5 May 2019 – Hexham Literary Festival
‘Writing for the Mob’ – Times Literary Supplement, 30 October. Click to read article.
Dan Snow’s History Hit podcast – ‘A Victorian Murder with Claire Harman’: Claire and Dan Snow walk the streets of Mayfair where Lord William’s murder took place. Click here to access podcast.