Book review

As a follow-up to his first two successful books, A Mix of Murders and Gaslight Villainy, Grahame Farrell’s Blood on the Cobbles is a true gem. If you liked Gaslight Villainy, you will love Farrell’s third work in which he treats us to another broad-spectrum helping of factual Victorian homicide. Here we are party to in-depth and detailed accounts of murder most foul in the form of thirteen superbly researched and written chapters, with Farrell’s ever clear, readable and articulate style portraying Victorian times vividly. This book is one for all true-crime readers seeking a taste of murders from times gone by, and is available for just the price of a coffee.

Blood on the Cobbles comprises an even balance of famous and lesser-known cases. In An Error of Judgement – titled most aptly – the focus lies not so much on the murder, but more on the fool who thought he could manipulate his way to exoneration. A Matter of Honour takes a different tack, and considers the fascinating world of Victorian duelling.

Exploring a quite different theme, Farrell presents in A Vocation to Kill separate and deeply contrasting accounts of two men who put their professional knowledge to the darkest of purposes - their means identical, their personalities and motives radically different. One was an outwardly upstanding and accomplished man of deep mystery, in contrast the other’s path to the farther hinterlands of malice and immorality was manifest and, frankly, astonishing. This is a striking portrayal of a man who escaped detection for a protracted period, where the origin of his profligate behaviour can be seen to stem clearly from his relationship with his parents.

The Trouble with Trains – an education in itself – presents the problems of personal safety on the Victorian railway system, and the sometimes risible solutions that were proposed; and here we see again one of Farrell’s great strengths – his ability to catalogue, compare and contrast the times and crimes of Victoriana, and to profile the people who committed dastardly acts of murder.

In a cracking final chapter, Farrell explores prostitution in Victorian times, laying out the various ‘grades’ of working girl that analysts of the time identified, and thus rendering the backdrop against which a mysterious death took place. Here we learn of a young and inexperienced counsel for the defence, who rose admirably to a considerable challenge. He cut methodically and relentlessly through the prosecution’s case, but what was the outcome? Was it really murder, and what was the epilogue to the events depicted in this fascinating account?

Given the clear popularity of his first two works, Blood on the Cobbles cements Grahame Farrell’s status as an author of note – one to watch, a writer who is going clearly from strength to strength – and with its excellent depictions and rattling-good prose, this book is yet another for true-crime readers seeking a taste of murders from times gone by.

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Chapter Listing:

The Burning Bank
An Error of Judgement
A Matter of Honour
A Vocation to Kill
A Stain on the Veneer
A Note to Mrs. Reville
Cobb’s Law
Adventures in Murder
Burden of Proof
Family Business
The Trouble with Trains
The Last Scolding
The Whereabouts of Charles Stephens

Blood on the Cobbles: A Victorian True-Murder Casebook by Grahame Farrell

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