Book Review: Murder by Candlelight by Michael Knox Beran

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Murder by Candlelight: The Gruesome Slayings Behind Our Romance with the Macabre by Michael Knox Beran

Murder by Candlelight explores in depth several notorious murders from the 18th and 19th centuries, and the effect of these murders on both the general populace, and on some of the brightest writers of the age. Set in chronological order, Beran explores the murder of William Weare by Jack Thurtell; a series of dismembered corpses  around London, focusing on the murder of Hannah Brown; the sensational death of Lord William Russell in his own bedchamber; and (of course) Jack the Ripper. Each of these crimes are gone over in historical detail, with literary gems sprinkled throughout.

The tone of the book is quite flowery, and largely mimics the style of the writers on display within. While the artistry of the prose isn’t in question, the overly wrought sentences may deter a more casual reader. Those interested in a more accessible book on the same topic might want to check out  The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders.

In all, the book has some interesting points, but does not seem to be aimed at the casual nonfiction or history reader. Beran’s knowledge of history and literature is phenomenal, but the accounts of the murders lack the suspense and sensationalism hey surely engendered in their day. At the end, this is an academic book for more academically-minded people. If that describes you, then there is a lot of very interesting information to be found here.

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