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
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.
"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.
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.
Praise for John Boyne and Crippen
"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. ... Boyne brings all the characters in this drama to life, skillfully shifting perspectives and using flashbacks and flash-forwards. … Boyne is to be commended for his ability to alternate between Wodehousian humor and Edwardian noir."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"A wonderfully evocative and detailed tale... Hugely enjoyable."
"Boyne is a skillful storyteller... genuinely thrilling."
Sunday Tribune (UK)
"Boyne has the ability to create memorable characters, and to unfold their various stories in a tightly controlled narrative that shifts backwards and forwards, doling out enough information to keep readers on the edge of their metaphorical seats."
The Irish Times
"Crippen has confirmed him as one of the best and original of the new generation of Irish writers."