Over the past year, two independently made tv documentaries have put the spotlight on the small West Cork village of Schull and has led to large numbers of viewers flocking there. The reason for the interest in this remote hamlet, is the unsolved murder of French film producer Sophie Toscan du Plantier in December 1996. In the interim, one man has become the prime suspect, but never been charged or convicted in Ireland. In France, Ian Bailey was found guilty in absentia and sentenced to 25 years in prison. There are similarities to this case and the subject of this month’s second Book Review, the book is the Dublin Railway Murder by Thomas Morris and published by Vintage ( www.penguin.co.uk/company/publishers/vintage.html ) on the 11th November.
Dublin 1856, the Chief Cashier of the Midlands Great Western Railway, Mr George Little. Was discovered dead with his throat cut in his office, which was locked from the inside, at the Broadstone Terminus. No murder weapon was found and thousands of pounds in gold and silver are left lying on his desk. Irelands most experienced detective and Dublin’s leading lawyer team up the investigate the murder. But the mystery defies all explanation and even baffles two of Scotland Yard’s top sleuths. With the days and months dragging on and five suspects arrested and released, along with every twist and turn of the case followed by the press, a local woman suddenly comes forward claiming to know the killer… Is she telling the truth, or is it just another dead end? Also, can a Phrenologist from England also prove that he can tell if a person is a murderer or not by measuring their head, if so, is the new suspect capable of committing such a deed?
I live just south of Dublin in the coastal town of Bray, and was in the city last week when I had to go to the leafy southside suburb of Ballsbridge for a work event. As for being anywhere near the north inner city, it’s been well over two years or more. The Broadstone terminus is now a large Dublin Bus depot, with a Dublin Light Rail (LUAS) stop adjoining it too. It recently underwent a major multimillion-euro restoration project of the old station building. I’ve never had any need to use it or visit the site or was I aware of an unsolved murder there.
The book is an amazing historical read, which leads the reader through every facet of the investigation and its aftermath. I was enthralled by the historical detail Morris potrayed about Dublin, Ireland, and its citizens, as well as the famous literary connectiuons to the case, like Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde. While reliving how basic murder investigations were back then. Especially considering how easily crime solving is portrayed in books and on the large and small screens these days, with the aid of computers and Forensics.
Back then, for example, the coroner wasn’t a medical man, just someone from the political elite who had friends in high places. Then there’s the strange interpretations of the law, like for example a wife not being able to give evidence against her husband. While forensically, the crime scene is all but rendered useless by hordes of curious onlookers and members of staff of the building entering the office to gawp at the sight of a dead man, let alone mentioning that the body is searched by members of the management of the company before any member of the police force arrives on the scene. This all comes across as very chaotic, but it is of its time and thank God things have moved on.
This isn’t my first time reading a book detailing the investigation of a real-life murder in Victorian England or Ireland. I’ve previously read the Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscales, Whicher was actually one of the two detectives sent across by Scotland Yard, although the celebrated detective remained very much under the radar and returned home baffled by the case after a fornight. On top of that I’ve also read Patricia Cornwell’s Portrait of a Killer, one of many books written about Jack The Ripper. Here we realise very quickly the haphazard way things were done, even down to the anti-Semitic accusations bandied about by the public and press.
Meanwhile, if you are one who loves James Patterson’s style of serving up chapters a single page long, then you are in for a let-down, so meaty and in-depth is Morris’ research and attention to detail, they are on average twenty plus pages in length. Each one ends on a teasing and page turning high point, meaning that this could lead to a few late nights. Who needs Netflix when you can binge your way through the salacious details of a murder mystery that makes this book a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable read? So delighted was I with this book, that had it arrived a couple of weeks earlier, I’d have presented it to my book group as my December choice. I suppose there’s always next year,
This is English author and historian Thomas Morris’ ( www.thomas-morris.uk ) third book, his others are The Matter Of The Heart (2017) and The Mystery Of The Exploding Teeth (2018). Before becoming a write he was a BBC Radio Producer for 18years and his freelance journalism has appeared in The Times, The Lancet and TLS. He also has a blog is subtitled “Making You Grateful for Modern Medicine”, he currently lives in London.
So, if you are interested in Irish history, or like me a local resident fascinated to learn about the capital city’s dark past, then this enthralling and highly addictive book is a must for you, or an excellent Christmas present for friends or family at home or abroad.
Reviewed by Adrian Murphy
This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour. To see what the other reviewers thought visit their blogs listed below. Then, if you get a copy and read it, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.