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Murder by the Book: The Crime That Shocked Dickens's London

3.34  ·  Rating details ·  181 ratings  ·  60 reviews
From the acclaimed biographer--the fascinating, little-known story of a Victorian-era murder that rocked literary London, leading Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, and Queen Victoria herself to wonder: Can a novel kill?

In May 1840, Lord William Russell, well known in London's highest social circles, was found with his throat cut. The brutal murder had the whole city talk
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published March 26th 2019 by Knopf Publishing Group (first published October 25th 2018)
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  • Murder by the Book by Claire Harman
    Murder by the Book: The Crime That Shocked Dickens's London
    Release date: Mar 26, 2019
    From the acclaimed biographer--the fascinating, little-known story of a Victorian-era murder that rocked literary London, leading Charles Dickens, Wil ...more

    Format: Print book

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    Availability: 10 copies available, 2669 people requesting

    Giveaway dates: Mar 26 - Apr 25, 2019

    Countries available: U.S.

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    3.34  · 
    Rating details
     ·  181 ratings  ·  60 reviews

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    Mar 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
    In 1840, Lord William Russell, a minor aristocrat, "aged and respected", was discovered with his throat slashed, lying on a blood-soaked mattress. These were unsettling, challenging times in London. There was "...the change taking place in the disposition of the common people toward 'all men in power'." "If a person like Lord William was not safe in his bed than who was?"

    The working class in London was becoming more literate. The latest novels, often sensational works of fiction "...glamorized v
    Valerity (Val)
    Murder by the Book: The Crime That Shocked Dickens’s London

    This book is set in 1840’s London and starts out discussing the murder of Lord William Russell in his Norfolk Street home after he retires to bed for the night to do some reading. He is found the next morning by his servant with his head gaping open from the blow of an ax which has been left nearby. There is evidence of coins and a watch taken, among other things. Lord William had previously complained of a locket with his late wife’s pi
    Roman Clodia
    Good for Victorian true crime fans, I was somewhat disappointed that the 'literary' hook much in evidence in the blurb is more of a red herring: Dickens and Thackeray are mentioned but feel shoehorned in, and without them an already short book would have been reduced to something more like a pamphlet.

    There is much detail uncovered here as an aristocratic master is murdered and his Swiss valet arrested, but it feels staid rather than gripping, and even the trial scenes somehow fail to be rendere
    Dannii Elle
    It is early in the morning on May 6th, 1840. London has yet to properly shake off the shackles of the night but already the servants are awake and attending to their duties. Lord Russell's house is no different, only he will not be rising from his slumber to witness them. He will momentarily be found in bed, with his throat slit from ear to ear, and it is this discovery that will spark one of the most notorious murder cases to plague Victorian London, involving the disparate likes of royalty, in ...more
    Paula Bardell-Hedley
    Oct 09, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
    Recommended to Paula by: Net Galley
    Shelves: netgalley, history
    “Who would want to butcher in his sleep this unobtrusive minor aristocrat, with his afternoons at Brooks’s and his restrained widower habits?”
    I’m not overfond of airports or aeroplanes – in fact, I would describe myself as having mild aviophobia – so tend, when flying, to struggle concentrating on a book for any length of time. I therefore take care always to slip something moderately light (in a literary sense) into my bag before leaving home in hope of distracting myself from squealing child
    ♥ Sandi ❣
    3.25 stars Thank you to Penguin's First to Read and Alfred A. Knopf for allowing me to read and review this book. Published March 26, 2019. (First publication October 25, 2018)

    This is the true crime revision of the death of the British aristocrat Lord William Russell. He was killed in his bed, in London in 1840. The book goes on to solve the crime. However, in the interim, the author goes on to illustrate the beginnings of the 'Newgate novels', which was the birth of the fiction crime novel. The
    Kirsty ❤️
    This is a true crime novel focusing on the death of Lord William Russell. There's an interesting thread about whether media can lead to real life crime, something still in discussion today with violence and computer games. 

    It's a short book so I think there is scope to really dig deeper into this element. There were a lot of characters in this book which I found hard to follow. It's not a bad book but I think just not one for me. 
    Nancy Oakes
    It is extremely rare that this happens, but quite frankly I was left totally unimpressed by this book because in my opinion, it fails to deliver what it promises. I kept waiting for it but we never quite got there.

    I'm going to read it again, to make sure I haven't missed anything, but as of now, meh.
    Oct 03, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
    Although I love historical true crime, this book was something of a mixed bag for me. It begins with the discovery, on the morning of Wednesday, 6th May, 1840, of a murder. Lord William Russell is found in his bed, his throat cut, on a wealthy, seemingly safe, Mayfair street. Although Lord William was a younger son, so not as successful ,or influential, as other members of his family; he was wealthy and well known. Widowed, with only two of his seven children, still alive, he had spent much time ...more
    Mar 19, 2019 rated it liked it
    Shelves: 2019, arc, nonfiction
    Early in the morning of Wednesday, 6 May 1840, on an ultra-respectable Mayfair street one block to the east of Park Lane, a footman called Daniel Young answered the door to a panic-stricken young woman, Sarah Mancer, the maid of the house opposite. Fetch a surgeon, fetch a constable, she cried: her master, Lord William Russell, was lying in bed with his throat cut.

    Murder by the Book has such an interesting premise: A burglary that ended with the gruesome murder of an upper-class gent in his ow
    Jessica Woodbury
    There is an interesting story here, but the way it's put together is a bit misleading for readers. There is a murder at its center, but this is not going to be a book about hunting down a killer or solving a mystery. The beginning of the book gives this impression but the actual real story doesn't deliver on it. Instead, the story here is about the rise of hysteria around one novel (William Harrison Ainsworth's JACK SHEPPARD) and the crime wave it allegedly inspired. The murder of Lord William R ...more
    Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
    Shelves: true-crime
    This is an historical true crime novel, so may not be to the taste of those who prefer fictionalised plots and characterisations. However, I found it well-researched and intriguing. I have previously read and enjoyed ”The Maul and the Pear Tree”, the late Queen of Crime P.D. James’s excellent foray (with T.A. Critchley) into similar non-fiction territory - in their case the 1811 Ratcliff Highway murders, which occurred some three decades prior to the murder of Lord William Russell in 1840, which ...more
    Owen Townend
    Jan 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
    This blurb is a bit of a hoodwink.

    While the book itself does indeed broach the subject of how novels at the time contributed to the murder of Lord William Russell, the only contemporary writer directly related to the crime was W. H. Ainsworth. Then again his name isn't as prevalent as the likes of Dickens or Thackeray so I do see why they were included in the blurb as tantalisers.

    Then again the fact that Ainsworth has largely been forgotten to history and due to the infamy of his Newgate Novel '
    Karen Germain
    Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
    In Murder by the Book, Claire Harman explores a horrific Victorian England crime that captivated the country. In 1840, Lord William Russell, a well-to-do senior citizen, was found nearly decapitated in his bed at his London residence. The hunt for the murderer focused heavily on Russell’s servants and finally yielded a confession from his valet, a Swiss national named Francois Benjamin Courvoisier. Courvoisier admitted guilt, but his testimony was often conflicting and although he was ultimately ...more
    Jason Furman
    Murder By the Book is a true crime account of what, according to the author, was one of the most sensational murders in 19th century London: that of Lord William Russell by his valet, François Courvoisier. Claire Harman documents the night of the murder, the crime itself (his throat was cut presumably while he was sleeping), the investigation, trial, hanging and aftermath. This is interspersed with an account of the role that William Harrison Ainsworth's novel Jack Shephard played in inspiring t ...more
    Rhiannon Johnson
    Nov 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
    Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I received no additional compensation.

    Check out this review on my blog:

    Murder by the Book: A Sensational Chapter in Victorian Crime by Clare Harman is historical true crime at its absolute best. Author Claire Harman transports readers to 1840 London and the sensational murder Lord William Russell. Russell was found on a May morning by his maid, with his throat slit so severe
    As a fan of Dickens and Victorian lit in general, I found this book very intriguing. I love hearing stories that place creative works in the context in which they were developed, and Harman does a great job of providing a background plot and details that help the reader understand the social environment of the times and the politics that were pulling on these writers. I was not familiar with the "Newgate"-type stories and the detrimental reception they had after being impugned in some serious cr ...more
    Mar 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
    A delightful mashup of true crime and my favorite genre, books about books. It also gets at the class worries of upper class London with the grisly murder of a harmless old man (in the ways of British aristocracy, Lord William Russell was pretty innocuous) by his valet (GASP). In among this is the discussion of the unbelievably popular Newgate novels romanticizing criminals’ exploits, particularly that of Jack Sheppard, which has many echoes today in the fraught discussion of the effect of viole ...more
    Mar 31, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
    Shelves: netgalley
    I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley and Knopf for free in exchange for an honest review.
    I was prepared to love everything about Murder by the Book: true crime, Victorian England, and the rise of the novel.
    Unfortunately, I found my attention wandering as I worked my way through the book. The various elements never came together in a cohesive way for me.
    I appreciate the rigorous research undertaken by the author, and think that many people will find Murder by the Book is their cup of te
    Brian Willis
    Apr 13, 2019 rated it liked it
    Does life imitate art? This crime procedural book explores such a crime that was eventually blamed on the influence of a book.

    Though Dickens is mentioned prominently in the subtitle, he merely makes a few contributions to the historical record here, and perhaps the most important development is that an execution is documented in his contemporary novel, Barnaby Rudge. However, this is a good read for the case, which reads like something out of Downton Abbey, and the very plausible "real story" th
    Dean Jobb
    Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
    Murder by the Book brilliantly recreates the 1840 murder of London aristocrat Lord William Russell by one of his servants, a case that ignited a debate over books and plays that glorified crimes and criminals. Claire Harman deftly exhumes this almost-forgotten tragedy and uses it to explore the line between depicting crime and exploiting it – a dilemma that writers, podcasters, and film and television producers grapple with to this day.
    Susie James
    Apr 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
    I picked this true crime book from the shelf at the Carrollton, Miss., library last week and settled in with it during the weekend. A tribute to my class in criminology back at MSCW in the late 1960s, and not too dense to appreciate! Those Victorian Englishers were a mess, weren't they? I never read "Jack Sheppard", the rascally book said to have deepened the corruption of the lower classes as well as that of the ne'er do well upper classes.
    Apr 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
    Lots of food for thought! Dickens’s London was not a musical.
    Lauren Albert
    I don't really see the connection Harman tries to make between the fiction of the time and the murder and it's aftermath.
    Cleo Bannister
    the crime in this case committed in the early part of the young Queen’s reign. It was 6 May 1840 when Lord William Russell was found lying on his bed with his head almost severed. Quite a shock for the servants who found him. This isn’t a story from the backstreets of Whitechapel either, rather the scene of the crime was on a smart street in Mayfair.

    The crime itself was shocking enough and kept those who followed the subsequent investigation duly scandalised, and to be fair, frightened. If a cri
    Oct 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

    A couple of weeks ago I was complaining with a friend about a book (I can’t even remember which one) and she told me ” You need to read and review a book for what it is, not for what you want it to be; you shouldn’t fault it because it didn’t meet your expectation, you should be impartial. ” She was right, of course, I shouldn’t do it and, fairly, I wouldn’t. What at that time I couldn’t find the words to explain was that I don’t want a book to meet my exp
    Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
    A gripping story of a Victorian era murder that gripped London and intensified public debate surrounding so called "Newgate novels" which focused on and romanticized highwaymen and other lawbreakers. The debate involved Dickens, Thackeray and other Victorian literary notables but the murder itself of an elderly nobleman in his bed in a great house in London stirred the pot of social unrest and the fears of the upper classes. While I may be prejudiced by my interest in Victorian fiction, I think ...more
    Lauren loves llamas
    I’m a pretty big true crime fan. If you leave me to my own devices, I’m probably going to end up watching Forensic Files. So, you can imagine that I was very excited to see a Victorian true crime novel with a literary angle. While parts of it lived up to the title, other parts were a bit more underwhelming.

    The Victorian ton was shocked by the gruesome murder of elderly Lord William Russel, found with his throat slit in his own bed in a ritzy part of London. While the mattress was soaked with blo
    Nov 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
    Like many True Crime books, Murder by the Book starts with a bloody crime, a man with his throat cut in his own bed. London in 1840 was a pretty grim place, but the reason this crime became a veritable national sensation didn’t have much to do with the gore of the thing or the apparent brazenness of it, but the simple fact that it happened to a member of the uppermost crust, Lord William Russell. Forget the miserable and dangerous lives of the poor, when an aristocrat got murdered, the new conso ...more
    Dec 29, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
    Someone will love this book. That person is not me.

    Honestly it is an interesting book, and I learned a fair bit - not just about the murder in question, but about Dickens, Thackeray, Ainsworth, Poe, British culture in the early-to-mid 1800s, police investigations at the time, and even tidbits about fingerprinting. I'm glad I read it and pushed through to the end, because, well, I like learning things. I think the book itself is a solid 3 stars, but the information contained within is at least 4
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    Claire Harman began her career in publishing, at Carcanet Press and the poetry magazine PN Review, where she was co-ordinating editor.

    Her first book, a biography of the writer Sylvia Townsend Warner, was published in 1989 and won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for ‘a writer of growing stature’ under the age of 35. She has since published biographies of Fanny Burney and Robert Louis Stevenson and ed