Matt Kuhns's Reviews > The Dagenham Murder: The Brutal Killing of PC George Clark, 1846

The Dagenham Murder by Linda Rhodes
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really liked it

This is a fine work, entirely deserving of the Gold Dagger award it received in 2006.

I had some trouble getting into it, at first, in retrospect probably because much of the background provided by the authors was already familiar to me; for most readers this may not be an issue at all.

In any event, once the book's own narrative got under way it picked up considerably, and I completed The Dagenham Murder in large chunks. Part police procedural, part local history, the authors find interesting ways to deal with the fact that the main plot ends unresolved (150-year-old spoiler: no one was ever convicted for the murder). This produces an intriguing mystery, though the pace of the actual investigation prevents it from working seamlessly as a tale of suspense. Instead, the real strength of the book is, in my opinion, the authors' development of the people involved as real, living individuals.

In a way The Dagenham Murder is less a true-crime story than it is the story of an event, the (never entirely resolved) details of which are of secondary importance to the ways in which that event altered the lives of more than a dozen individuals, and their community. Through diligent research, Rhodes, Shelden and Abnett reconstruct those individuals in such detail that they seem fully real people, genuinely experiencing an array of upheavals and reverses. Most of us, thankfully, have never endured a fugitive's life, the creaking Victorian justice system or the dreadful floating prison "hulks" where excess prisoners were stowed. Yet all of these strange fates become real, and interesting, seen through the eyes of people one gets to know almost personally through the course of the story.

If you hunger for a tidy murder mystery, look elsewhere, but if you would like to understand murder as an event with long aftermath for the lives of a real, ordinary working community... spend some time in Dagenham.
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