Title: Mr Briggs' Hat: A Sensational Account of Britain's First Railway Murder
Author: Kate Colquhoun
Year published: 2011
Time It Took To Read: A week
My eldest son went down with chickenpox just as I started this book. Ah, chickenpox, bane of my life. The next few days were taken up with endless screaming, begging me to stop him itching, asking WHY, WHY MUST HE HAVE THE POX? (he's not quite 4, and prone to melodrama) and howling for help. On top of this, I had a uni essay due in today, so I had to write that as well. My children are only ever ill when I'm on a deadline. It's quite irritating. The youngest has yet to become spotty, but it's coming...oh yes, it's coming
Anyway, I decided to read this book, which has been sitting on my shelf for over a year, because there's a dramatisation of the case on BBC2 on Thursday night. I realised I couldn't possibly read the article about it in the Radio Times until I'd read the book. And I goddamn love the Radio Times.
I finished it last night, sat on my eldest's bed, trying to will him into unconsciousness (he's better, but he doesn't sleep well). I love true crime. I have a shelf and a half of it in my 'library'. My mother fired this obsession in me when I was young. If there was a particularly grisly murder, or (even better) series of murders, she would buy every paper covering the case she could find, to compare details. Then, afterwards, she'd buy all the biographies and autobiographies to pore over after the case. I read them in bulk, from the age of around 11 (far too young to be reading about Fred West or the Moors Murderers). As I got older, I found I had a preference for older crimes, especially the Victorian sensations, covered in minute detail and description, working without photographs, without CSI. I also developed a lot of love for forensic methodology, probably because I'm obsessed by human pathology, but my taste for modern crimes has dissipated since I became a mother.
Mr Briggs' Hat does not disappoint. It has all the elements of a good yarn: a shocking murder, a transatlantic flight, a mass of circumstantial evidence, but nothing concrete. It's also a study of society and cultural values at a time when public execution was the penalty for murder, at odds with an incredibly prudish and religious world. The only thing I didn't like about it was the author's habit of putting quotes in italics, rather than quotemarks. If you loved The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (and if you haven't read that, go and get it, AT ONCE) then you'll enjoy this.
Book count: 17/50