Crippen: A Novel of Murder

Crippen: A Novel of Murder

4.3 6
by John Boyne

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July 1910: A gruesome discovery has been made at 39 Hilldrop Crescent, Camden.

Chief Inspector Walter Dew of Scotland Yard did not expect the house to be empty. Nor did he expect to find a body in the cellar. Buried under the flagstones are the remains of Cora Crippen, former music-hall singer and wife of Dr. Hawley Crippen. No one would have thought the

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July 1910: A gruesome discovery has been made at 39 Hilldrop Crescent, Camden.

Chief Inspector Walter Dew of Scotland Yard did not expect the house to be empty. Nor did he expect to find a body in the cellar. Buried under the flagstones are the remains of Cora Crippen, former music-hall singer and wife of Dr. Hawley Crippen. No one would have thought the quiet, unassuming Dr. Crippen capable of murder, yet the doctor and his mistress have disappeared from London, and now a full-scale hunt for them has begun.

Across the Channel in Antwerp, the S.S. Montrose has just set off on its two-week voyage to North America. Slipping in among the first-class passengers is a Mr. John Robinson, accompanied by his teenage son, Edmund. The pair may be hoping for a quiet, private voyage, but in the close confines of a luxury ocean liner, anonymity is rare. And with others aboard looking for romance, or violence, or escape from their past in Europe, it will take more than just luck for the Robinsons to survive the voyage unnoticed.

An accomplished, intricately plotted novel, Crippen brilliantly reimagines the amazing escape attempt of one of history's most notorious killers and marks the outstanding American debut of one of Ireland's best young novelists.

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Editorial Reviews

Patrick Anderson
The Irish writer John Boyne's grimly fascinating new novel is based on the Hawley Harvey Crippen murder case, which delighted and scandalized Londoners in 1910. Boyne starts with the basic facts…but he has altered the story to suit his dramatic needs and authorial whims. The result of his reinvention is a dark comedy that is supremely readable, always suspenseful, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny and, finally, a monumental piece of misogyny. In Boyne's sardonic telling, Cora Crippen was a monster who richly deserved to die, and her long-suffering husband was a man more sinned against than sinning.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Had Charles Dickens been around to turn his talents to fictionalizing the classic Crippen murder case, the result might well have been close to this superb, multifaceted novel from Irish author Boyne (The Thief of Time). The crime, a cause celebre in 1910, is probably best remembered for its denouement, which featured a race across the Atlantic by Scotland Yard Insp. Walter Dew in pursuit of his suspects aboard a cruise ship. Boyne brings all the characters in this drama to life, skillfully shifting perspectives and using flashbacks and flash-forwards. While his depiction of Hawley Crippen, a quack and self-proclaimed doctor with a disturbing taste for butchery, and his mistress is admittedly speculative, the author's imaginings of their inner lives and motivations are plausible. His version of the events of the night when Crippen's harridan wife met her gruesome death is convincing, despite the lack of historical support. Boyne is to be commended for his ability to alternate between Wodehousian humor and Edwardian noir. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
"The truth always outs," states Inspector Dew of Scotland Yard. Or does it? Boyne (The Thief of Time) blends fact, fiction, and supposition in a suspenseful tale based on the 1910 transatlantic pursuit of Dr. Hawley Crippen for the murder and brutal dismemberment of his wife, Cora. The novel seamlessly blends several story lines, following Hawley and lover Ethel, disguised as father and son, as they board a cruise ship headed for Canada (and, they hope, freedom) while also tracing the life of Hawley and of those connected to him from his infancy to his execution for Cora's murder. Unlike historical perspectives that mention Crippen and Jack the Ripper in the same breath, Boyne's Crippen is more sympathetic, although certainly frightening at times. Despite having to capture such a long time frame, Boyne does an excellent job of condensing and elaborating exactly where and when he should. His characters are wonderfully memorable and engaging, and this book will satisfy patrons with a thirst for dramatized true-crime stories. Highly recommended for all popular fiction collections.-Susan O. Moritz, National Gallery of Art Lib., Washington, DC Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An Irish novelist's copious recasting of the sensational Crippen murder hunt. Boyne's coarsely textured Edwardian page-turner teems with characters but reduces them to cartoonish dimensions. Crippen himself, American and mousey but with a fascination for dissection, emerges as the frustrated product of various pushy women, starting with his mother, whose religious obsession denied him the medical education he craved. After his first wife's death in a traffic accident, he takes up with a music-hall singer named Cora, who turns out to be as overbearing as his parent. Crippen's historical reputation was informed by not only Cora's murder and dismemberment in London but his flight back to North America aboard the SS Montrose, accompanied by his lover Ethel Le Neve. From these events Boyne plaits a triple-strand narrative that loops around in time, effectively leeching suspense from the murder. Instead, the novel's central focus falls on shipboard events, as suspicions mount regarding the identity of a certain John Robinson (Crippen, who shaved off his moustache) and his "son" Edmund, in fact Ethel in a suit and wig, setting aflutter the heart and possibly the latent lesbianism of another young passenger. A snobby matron (one of many in the story), a stiff captain, a brutish youth and other caricatures spend the 14-day voyage gossiping, leering and bristling. The captain, however, seeing through Edmund's disguise, famously takes advantage of the new-fangled Marconi Telegraph equipment onboard the ship to communicate his suspicions to the police. The plodding Inspector Dew races aboard another vessel to overtake the ship, and both Crippen and Le Neve are arrested off the coast of Canada.Boyne's light tone diffuses any seriousness and his late and highly improbable twist to the murder scenario transforms the story, already damaged by its loose attention to period style, into something resembling farce. Unconvincing.

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St. Martin's Press
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