Victorian newspapers such as The Illustrated Police News, the precursor of today’s tabloids, are a key source of information for crime historians and writers, with their blend of melodramatic illustrations and breathless reports of crimes. Here, Jan Bondeson utilises a preexisting ‘ ledger’ of murders drawn from newspapers from the era.
Bondeson’s descriptions are based on how the downmarket press presented murderers and their victims, but it would have been nice to have a bit more nuance: some analysis or questioning of whether the portrayals reflected contemporary views of what a criminal should be like, rather than showing the complexities of Victorian crime and offenders. The author deems murderess Mary Eleanor Piercey to be “a sinister young woman if there ever was one” and states that the Denham murderer demonstrated “stupidity and imprudence”.
The book is amply illustrated with drawings from the Victorian press – but again, there is no discussion of how these reflected contemporary tropes about crime and criminals, or how some were ‘ stock’ images rather than accurate reflections. However, it is a visually attractive read.