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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Review: Crippen by John Boyne

A brilliantly-organised thriller, dragging the reader towards the inevitable. A fabulous reading experience.

Title: Crippen
Author: John Boyne
Publisher: Transworld
Published: 2004
Genre: Crime/Thriller

Find it at Amazon UK

The blurb says:
July 1910: The grisly remains of Cora Crippen, music hall singer and wife of Dr Hawley Crippen, are discovered in the cellar of 39 Hilldrop Crescent, Camden. But the Doctor and his mistress, Ethel Le Neve, have vanished, much to the frustration of Scotland Yard and the outrage of a horrified London.

Across the Channel in Antwerp, the SS Montrose sets sail on its two week voyage to Canada. Amongst its passengers are the overbearing Antonia Drake and her daughter Victoria, who is hell-bent on romance, the enigmatic Mathieu Zela and the modest Martha Hayes. Also on board are the unassuming Mr John Robinson and his seventeen-year-old son Edmund. But all is not as it seems...

My verdict: fascinating and informative, while also creating something new out of the known. Highly recommended for crime readers.
I'm not a 'true crime' reader, but I do enjoy a good whodunnit or a strong crime thriller and this was right up my street. Although I knew some of the pertinent facts in this case, the strength of Boyne's writing still pulled me in and made me need to know what was coming next.

The novel's narrative is divided, with chapters alternating between the 'now' of 1910, after the murder has been discovered, and Hawley Crippen's life leading up to this point. As the book goes on, the two of course get ever closer, leading us to the inevitable climax of the story. This re-organisation of events is what underpins the highly successful reinterpretation of the Crippen case. Both narrative threads are told using a third person voice which is authoritative without ever being dry.

Period detail is crisp and clear and it is easy to plunge yourself into Crippen's world, and even to feel some sympathy for him, even as you know you're reading a murderer's backstory. Yet this sympathy isn't overdone and the story is neither sentimentalised nor sensationalised. Secondary characters, especially the passengers on the Montrose, whom we meet first, are beautifully drawn and contribute colour and movement to the story.

Overall, as a fictionalisation of true events, it is a gripping story. Boyne adds his own twists and details to turn the bare facts into a well-rounded novel. The organisation of the plot is ingenious and really adds to the reader's enjoyment in the book, really adding to the sense of a movement towards an inevitable conclusion. Although the ultimate conclusion will be known to most readers ahead of time, the journey Boyne takes us on to get there is more than worth it.

Big thanks go to Transworld for providing this book for review as part of their Transworld Book Group initiative.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a fascinating book - and right up my street. I enjoy reading crime books, and like the mix of fiction and fact in this one. Such a well-known case too! May have to add to my (ever-growing) to buy list.

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