Posts Tagged With: Crippen

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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Crippen by John Boyne (Transworld Book Group)

Title: Crippen
John Boyne
Black Swan
First Published:
No. of pages:504

Rating: 5/5

Synopsis (Amazon):
July 1910: a gruesome discovery has been made at 39 Hilldrop Crescent, Camden. Buried in the cellar are the remains of Cora Crippen, former music-hall singer and wife of Dr Hawley Crippen. But Dr Crippen and his mistress Ethel Le Neve have disappeared, and a full-scale hunt for them has begun. Across the Channel in Antwerp, Captain Kendall gives the order for the SS Montrose to begin its two-week voyage to Canada. On board are 1300 passengers, including the overbearing Antonia Drake, the unassuming Martha Hayes and the enigmatic Mathieu Zela. And, slipping in almost unnoticed, a Mr John Robinson with his seventeen-year-old son Edmund …

Well, where to start? How about with just one word: WOW! Crippen is quite one of the most gripping crime faction novels I’ve ever read. That’s the short version.

You want the long version? OK, here goes…

This fictionalised account of a real and infamous crime that gripped the English-speaking world is nothing short of brilliant. The characters are sympathetically drawn, yes, even that of Dr Hawley Crippen himself. Boyne has taken one of Britain’s most notorious and mysterious killers and made him a human being; one with feelings and troubles with which one can readily identify. The relationship he suffers with his overbearing wife, Cora, makes one wish someone would kill her!

Despite Dr Crippen being a name synonymous with gruesome and grisly murder, mystery and misconception surrounds both the man and the case, so proceedings are not so straightforward as one might expect. Indeed, Boyne manages to keep things suspenseful to the very end, which came as a huge surprise to this reader!

I was completely drawn into the plot and loved the back-and-forth style of storytelling which revealed things little by little, drawing things out in such a way that there was always something unexpected around the corner. Time and again I was delighted by some little twist or turn till the thrilling conclusion which was immensely satisfying.

It’s rare that a novel compels me to research a subject further, but this one has had that exact effect. I’m now fascinated by the man and the crime he committed (or did he?), and urge all fans of crime fact and fiction to pick up Crippen as soon as possible.  I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down till the last page has been turned.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

You can find out more about the Transworld Book Group HERE.

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