Book review

Hot on the heels of A Mix of Murders, Gaslight Villainy forms Grahame Farrell’s second volume of gripping true-murder cases. But where A Mix of Murders covers the Twentieth Century, Gaslight Villainy treats the reader, in exquisite detail, to a selection of fourteen crimes committed during the Victorian period. Founded, as with A Mix of Murders, on meticulous research, Farrell presents these cases with an equally clear, readable and articulate style that demonstrates the author’s fine command of his subject.

In one case, Gaslight Villainy educates us in the techniques of execution, and the methods of specific executioners – not, it is clear, an always-professional process performed by ever-adept professionals. In another tale, Farrell shows that lingering abhorrence towards dissection of human cadavers held great sway over resolution of the crimes of the time, and yet shows still how a jury used other lines of reason to find the perpetrator in question guilty.

In Voyage of Death, as with the other cases, the reader enjoys excellent characterisation: shipboard existence and the very feel of the vessel itself come to life vividly, thus forming a backdrop to a most intriguing case. Most murders occur on dry land, over which the perpetrator may flee a great distance following their ungodly deed, but murder at sea changes this parameter, and the concomitant effects thus frame this particular case tightly, where one pressing-question is ever to the fore: who exactly was the guilty party?

Farrell characterises the times superbly in this book, painting a detailed picture of a culture that relished public executions, where the remoteness of rural murders – counter-intuitively – did not lend a greater chance of escape from the law, and where good-old-fashioned policing was the public’s strongest weapon in the face of malice aforethought. As with A Mix of Murders, the intelligent analyses in Gaslight Villainy give more than enough to satisfy the reader, but the rich context this book gives to its descriptions make it a must-have for true-crime aficionados. If you like your true crime served up with style, clarity and a sense of the times, you owe it to yourself to buy this book post haste.

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Chapter Listing:

The Lothario of Portland Town
Secret Poisoning
A Species of Madness
The Stoic's Tale
The Fickle Waters of the Arran
Unservantlike Behaviour
The Two Bakers of St. Luke's
Insured for Murder
A Drop too Much
Drink, Drugs and Doctors
The Home Improvements of Frederick Deeming
The Late Mrs Anderson
Incident at Ardlamont
Voyage of Death

Gaslight Villainy: True Tales of Victorian Murder by Grahame Farrell

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