Nonfiction November Week 3: Be (and ask) the Expert – Victorian true crime

For Week 3 of Nonfiction November, the topic is as follows:

Week 3: (Nov 11 to 15) – Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert (hosted by Doing Dewey)

Three ways to join in this week! You can share 3 or more books on a single topic that you’ve read and can recommend (be the expert); you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you’ve been dying to read (ask the expert); or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).


I don’t read enough non-fiction to be able to call myself an expert on any topic, but here are three books I’ve read on Victorian true crimes. I enjoyed them all, particularly the third one.

Murder by the Book by Claire Harman

This book looks at some possible links between the murder of Lord William Russell in London in 1840 and the influence of the popular crime novels of the time known as ‘Newgate Novels’. In particular, Harman discusses the book Russell’s murderer was thought to have been reading just before committing the crime: Jack Sheppard by William Harrison Ainsworth. I was disappointed by the true crime aspects of this book, but loved learning more about the Newgate Novels!

The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale

This book is on a very similar subject. It deals with a murder committed by a thirteen-year-old boy in London’s East End in 1895 and how blame was placed on the availability of cheap adventure novels, or ‘penny dreadfuls’ as they were known. I’ve also read and enjoyed Kate Summerscale’s more famous The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, an account of the Road Hill House Murder of 1860.

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse by Piu Marie Eatwell

This fascinating book explores the life of the eccentric, reclusive 5th Duke of Portland and the sensational claim of Anna Maria Druce that the Duke was actually the alter ego of her father-in-law, T.C. Druce. The story is as bizarre as the title would suggest and involves secret wives and illegitimate children, fraud and forgery, stolen evidence and unreliable witnesses, lies and deception and double identities. I loved it!


Now I’m going to ‘Ask the Expert’…

Have you read any of these books – or any other books about Victorian true crimes? Which ones would you recommend?

8 thoughts on “Nonfiction November Week 3: Be (and ask) the Expert – Victorian true crime

  1. FictionFan says:

    I loved The Wicked Boy and throughly recommend her earlier book, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, if you haven’t already read it. Can’t think of any Victorian ones off the top of my head, but two that I really enjoyed from the very early twentieth century are Conan Doyle for the Defence by Margalit Fox – about a murder in Glasgow where Conan Doyle got involved in the investigation – and The Magnificent Spilsbury and the Case of the Brides in the Bath by Jane Robins – half about the crimes and the more interesting half about the famous forensic patholigist, Bernard Spilsbury.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I really enjoyed The Suspicions of Mr Whicher too, but didn’t want to include two books by the same author in my post. Both the books you’ve mentioned sound great, especially the Conan Doyle one!

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