Crippen by John Boyne

In this book, John Boyne takes a rather infamous murderer, and tells a story which is part fiction, and part fact. And I’ll be honest, I’m still undecided exactly how I feel about it.

Firstly, the story… there are two tales to be told, one being Crippen’s life, and the events leading to his wife’s murder, and the other his attempted escape, and eventual capture. The book jumps between different times, but they are easy to follow. The attempted escape takes place on the SS Montrose, where some of the other passengers become a part of the story.

As a story, told on it’s own, it would make an interesting enough book. Crippen’s early life helps to build up his character, and Ethel Le Neve makes a rather fascinating mistress, as someone who appears to be rather sweet, and yet also very cunning.

My uncertainly comes from the issue of writing a fictional account of a well known murder. Having reflected, I think I would rather know that the character and events are based on known facts, not a fictional account of what may have happened. If reading fiction, I would rather all characters and events are made up.

In addition, Crippen is portrayed very differently to how I would expect, which affected the way I read the book. I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but I got the impression that the author felt sorry for him, and was presenting a man pushed to murder by his hard life, and relationships.

However, it did make me realise that I actually knew very little – my only real memory is of the Chamber of Horrors in Madam Tussauds, and vague memories of a film. Reading the book has lead me to read more about the case, and has made me realise he probably was a strange quiet man, rather than the cold bloodied killer I always imagine.

Reviews are rather mixed about this book, so it’s probably one to try for yourself. In particular it would make a good book group choice, with lots to discuss and debate.

Reviewed as part of the Transworld Book Group Reading Challenge.

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