Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Dublin Railway Murder by Thomas Morris. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to Vintage for my digital review copy.
About the Book
Dublin, November 1856: George Little, the chief cashier of the Broadstone railway terminus, is found dead, lying in a pool of
blood beneath his desk.
He has been savagely beaten, his head almost severed; there is no sign of a murder weapon, and the office door is locked, apparently from the inside. Thousands of pounds in gold and silver are left untouched at the scene of the crime.
Augustus Guy, Ireland’s most experienced detective, teams up with Dublin’s leading lawyer to investigate the murder. But the mystery defies all explanation, and two celebrated sleuths sent by Scotland Yard soon return to London, baffled.
Five suspects are arrested then released, with every step of the salacious case followed by the press, clamouring for answers. But then a local woman comes forward, claiming to know the murderer….
Format: Hardcover (384 pages) Publisher: Harvill Secker
Publication date: 11th November 2021 Genre: True Crime, Mystery
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In The Dublin Railway Murder, the author pieces together the story of an 1856 murder mystery that gripped the population of Dublin, and beyond. The book is a meticulously researched true crime story based on contemporary accounts, original police interviews and other documents unearthed from the archives by the author.
The murder of George Little is in essence a locked-room murder mystery that could have come straight off the pages of an Agatha Christie novel, but didn’t because it actually happened. However, don’t expect a ‘whodunnit’ because a definitive outcome is not necessarily the way things happen in real life.
The book contains a massive amount of detail, not just about the course of the investigation and the trial, but also about life in Victorian Dublin. Although the social history was fascinating, at times it did threaten to dominate the unfolding story. Having said that, I did learn an awful lot about the operation of a Victorian railway, a seemingly much more complicated and bureaucratic process than simply transporting people and goods from A to B.
The book has a large cast of characters (listed at the beginning of the book) some of whom make only a brief appearance and, although forming part of the investigation, don’t contribute much to the eventual outcome. What I did find astonishing was the initially slapdash approach to the investigation, such as not securing the crime scene and allowing members of the public and press to wander in and out. On the other hand, I was amazed at the efforts the police went to in the attempt to recover key items of evidence, including having a canal drained and searching in some extremely unsalubrious places.
My favourite parts of the book were the chapters describing the trial of the individual charged with the crime. There was a real sense of the frenzied atmosphere around the proceedings with the press and public jostling for places in the gallery, as well as the barristers for the defence and the prosecution competing with each other to uncover – or mitigate – the more damaging revelations, even to make the most amusing quip. These sections also highlighted aspects of the legal process we would find quite puzzling today, such as the absence of a witness box and the item that was used instead.
The Dublin Railway Murder has been likened to Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher and in fact Whicher does make a fleeting appearance in the book. I felt I would have liked to get to know some of the main characters, such as Superintendent Augustus Guy, just a little bit more, and perhaps see things from their point of view. And, as the author acknowledges towards the end of the book, the emotional impact of the murder on the victim’s family, which would be much more of a focus in a similar situation today, was largely ignored at the time.
The Dublin Railway Murder will definitely appeal to fans of historical true crime and those who like to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of past times.
In three words: Detailed, meticulous, absorbing
Try something similar: This Mortal Boy by Fiona Kidman
About the Author
Thomas Morris is a writer and historian. His first book, The Matter of the Heart (Bodley Head, 2017), a critically-acclaimed history of cardiac surgery, won a Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Award for non-fiction. He is also the author of The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth (Bantam, 2018). He was previously a BBC radio producer for 18 years, and his freelance journalism has appeared in publications including The Times, The Lancet and the TLS.