Harper, £9.99, 556pp. £9.49 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

The Invention of Murder, By Judith Flanders

Reading this epic dissection of 19th-century murder and the fascination it held for the Victorian public, you are reminded of the odd ways in which the names of perpetrators and victims continue to resonate. The expression "Sweet Fanny Adams" stems from a grisly case of 1867 when the dismembered body of nine-year-old Fanny Adams was found near Alton, Hampshire. Myles-na-Gopaleen, the pen-name used by Flann O'Brien, was a character in Dion Boucicault's drama The Colleen Bawn - derived from the real-life murder of 15-year-old Ellen Hanley, drowned in 1819. Thomas Hood's poem "Eugene Aram", repeatedly used for comic effect by PG Wodehouse – in Bertie Wooster's mangled recollection, it goes, "Tum-tum tum-tumpty mist (I think it's mist),/ And Eugene Aram walked between,/ With gyves upon his wrist" – concerned a Knaresborough man hanged for the murder of a shoemaker in 1749.

Flanders restricts her canvas to the era of the broadside and penny dreadful (and she notes that Fanny Adams was first applied to "cheap, tinned meat"). There is a sound reason for this tight frame. Though murders were a comparative rarity in the 19th century, our forebears couldn't get enough of them. Flanders has ample material without straying beyond 1900.

Slayings inspired countless plays and puppet shows. From Pollack's Toy Theatre, you could buy The Maid and the Magpye, based on Ella Fenning, whose hanging for attempted murder attracted 45,000 spectators in 1815. The slaughter of Maria Marten at the Red Barn near Polstead, Suffolk, in 1827, which still rings a distant bell in the public memory, prompted fairground peepshows, numerous plays, a host of penny dreadfuls (one publisher's standing instruction was: "More blood – much more blood!") and even Staffordshire pottery figurines.

Other star cases in Flanders's sanguinary panorama include Palmer the Rugeley poisoner, who infected Dickens's fertile imagination ("I see the late Mr Palmer at the theatre... down the street... on the race course"), Mary Eleanor Pearcey, hanged for the murder of a mother and baby in Hampstead in 1890 (an exhibition at Tussaud's associated with the case attracted 75,000 in three days) and, inevitably, the Whitechapel murders of 1888, which led to 400,000 words in the Daily Telegraph alone. A century on, the plays have become TV series but little has changed. The most infamous instance of phone hacking by the News of the World was prompted by our continuing obsession with murder.

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy