Sara Townsend's Reviews > The Pleasures of Men

The Pleasures of Men by Kate Williams
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Jan 10, 2012

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bookshelves: historical-crime

London, 1840: A serial killer roams the streets of Spitalfields, leaving the bodies of his young female victims with their chests ripped open and hair stuffed in their mouths to resemble a beak. Because of this, he becomes known as The Man of Crows.

Catherine Sorgeiul, living with her uncle in the East End, becomes obsessed with the murders. An isolated young woman considered rather odd by her peers, most of whom are preoccupied with finding husbands, Catherine rarely leaves the house and has little to entertain her outside her own imagination. She writes in her notebook about murder, putting herself in the head of each victim, imagining her last thoughts and feelings as the murderer strikes. She starts to roam the streets late at night, following the last footsteps of the victims and seeking out the murderer. But is she hoping to discover his identity, or presenting herself as the next victim? We follow the story through Catherine’s unreliable point of view, and it becomes disturbingly clear that we can never quite be sure whether what she is telling us actually happened, or if it is a murder described from the pages from her journal. This is a young woman with an unhealthy fixation with death. We learn that her parents and brother are dead, but for a long time we don’t actually know what happened to them. Can we trust Catherine’s version of events? She is clearly a disturbed young woman with dark secrets, but what is she actually capable of?

This is a dark, brooding, claustrophobic novel that really brings to life the oppressive poverty of Victorian London. For much of it, I was unsure whether I was reading a historical crime novel or a gothic psychological literary thriller. But ultimately, it is a ‘whodunnit’, and the identity of The Man of Crows is revealed by the end of the novel, thus satisfying fans of the classic crime genre. However, I would also recommend this book to fans of gothic horror. There is nothing supernatural going on here, but the dark imaginings of Catherine Sorgeiul create a genuinely disturbing and creepy atmosphere.

Reprinted with permission of Shots e-zine (

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