NONFICTION
Murder by the Book: The Crime That Shocked Dickens's London
Knopf. Mar. 2019. 272p. illus. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780525520399. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780525520405. CRIME
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When a brutal murder occurs, there is often a public outcry about how mass media is to blame. This is not a modern phenomenon. In the 1830s, the true crime-focused Newgate Calendar, published by the administrator of London's Newgate Prison, recorded the crimes of the incarcerated and led to a genre known as "Newgate novels," which glamorized the life and death of highwaymen and blackguards. Even Dickens's Oliver Twist was counted among them, though the famous author discouraged the label. The most prominent title in this genre was William Ainsworth's Jack Sheppard. This novel and the plays it inspired were frequently accused of corrupting the lower classes. Then, in 1840, the brutal murder of Victorian gentleman Lord William Russell brought the controversy to a head when his valet, a suspect in the case, was found to be reading Ainsworth's work. Author Harman (Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart) gives a fascinating account of a murder and its social ramifications and points out the unanswered questions that were overshadowed by the scandalous trial and public moralizing.
VERDICT This fascinating look at the intersection of crime and literature will interest social and literary historians as well as true crime fans.

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