cover image Murder by the Book: The Crime That Shocked Dickens’s London

Murder by the Book: The Crime That Shocked Dickens’s London

Claire Harman. Knopf, $26.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-525-52039-9

Biographer Harman (Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart) effectively uses a novelist’s approach to recreate a now obscure 1840 English murder case that was a sensation at the time. Lord William Russell, uncle to the secretary of state for the colonies, was found in the bedroom of his London home with his throat slit. But while the wound was horrific, almost severing Lord Russell’s head, oddly there were no bloodstains anywhere besides the bed. The crime panicked the upper classes, who wondered, if the victim had not been “safe in his bed, in the most exclusive and privileged residential enclave” in England, who was? Although some household items were missing, the evidence of theft was equivocal, leading the affluent to fear that the murder may have been motivated by underclass hatred of the privileged. The police focused on the theory that the killer was a servant, and charged Lord William’s new valet, François Courvoisier, who eventually confessed to his attorneys and was executed after a trial. By exploring concerns about the glorification of criminals in the fiction of the day and addressing some lingering mysteries, such as whether Courvoisier had an accomplice, Harman adds depth to a fascinating true crime narrative. Agent: Zoe Waldie, Rogers, Coleridge & White. [em](Mar.) [/em]