Sophia's Reviews > Crippen: A Novel of Murder

Crippen by John Boyne
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Apr 15, 12

Read from October 17 to 22, 2011

Crippen is of course based on the true story of Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen, the man who, in 1910, murdered his wife and chopped her into little bits, before attempting a daring escape on a transatlantic crossing. The story was a news sensation at the time, and Crippen is remembered as the first criminal to have been caught with the aid of wireless communication. John Boyne follows true events for most of the story, but he does use his own interpretation towards the end, so this should not be taken as an entirely factual account.


The structure of the novel is interesting, and switches between different periods in Crippen’s life. There’s a particular focus on the ocean voyage, where we get to know a number of his travelling companions, but the author also shines a spotlight on the woman who first suspected that Crippen was a murderer and the detective who captured him. In other sections of the book we follow Crippen’s early life from childhood, his struggles to become a doctor, his first marriage and the move from his home in America to a new life in England.

Despite the fact that it’s based on a true story, Crippen really manages to keep the reader guessing. At first it seems a straightforward tale of a murderer, and there are indications from his early life that he certainly has the potential to be a cold-hearted killer. But as the novel progresses you feel your sympathies begin to change. He does take an awful lot of abuse from the wife he supposedly murdered, and you even start to wonder why he didn’t do it sooner. He seems so mild-mannered – could he have really been capable of such an horrific crime? There are a number of surprises in the book, and I was really impressed by the way the author kept things interesting and unexpected.

The writing keeps things jogging along at a good pace, and there’s a surprising amount of humour in the story, too – I managed a few chuckles along the way. I’m not sure I’d list John Boyne as a new favourite, but I’d definitely be happy to read another of his books.
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10/17/2011 page 44
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