Friday, November 18, 2011


Kate Colqhoun's new true-crime account of the first Victorian railway killing, Murder in the First Class Carriage, has just been published, and drawing widespread acclaim:

“On a summer night in 1864 a London banker named Thomas Briggs boarded the train home and wound up dead on the side of the tracks. Cushions soggy with blood and another man’s hat were found in his compartment. The murder rattled the country with its implication — particularly terrifying for the British — that if you weren’t safe in first class, you weren’t safe anywhere. Finding the culprit was as urgent as it was difficult; at that point, forensic science amounted to distinguishing between animal and human blood. Ms. Colquhoun’s meticulously researched true-crime account, first published in England, is a tick-tock of the arrest and trial of a German tailor following a chase across the Atlantic. The case against the tailor, Franz Müller, was almost comically flimsy; he remained well within doubt’s shadow. Though the book could have benefitted from a little pruning, its final revelation is a showstopper.” – New York Times

“Kate Colquhoun's Murder in the First-Class Carriage is not only a skillful reconstruction of the crime and the pursuit of the perpetrator; it's also a natty evocation of Victorian London and modernity's anxieties, and a hard look at the courts and newspapers that befouled the whole sorry affair. . . Colquhoun's work is an exquisite cautionary tale, as valuable today as it is telling of then. What price technological progress? How best assimilate foreign nationals drawn by opportunity? "How should a nation priding itself on its morality and civilisation deal with threats to the safety of its citizens?" One hundred and fifty years come and go, and the answers are as elusive as ever.” – BN Review

“This distinguished account of the 1864 crime that shook Victorian England begins with scant objects—a forgotten hat and stolen watch—as well as circumstantial evidence that quickly traced a path toward the suspect, a German tailor whose cross-Atlantic escape was stopped by the legendary Scotland Yard. Colquhuon masterfully chronicles the chase, extradition, and trial. . . More than a well-spun tale of searching for justice amid hype, Murder in the First-Class Carriage reveals the underside of Victorian life, where interest in the macabre flourished alongside the propriety modern readers may expect. Fans of true crime and the general reader alike will appreciate Colquhuon’s talent for enlivening facts with everyday moments. The story is especially noteworthy for its balance between the case itself and the atmospheric, gas-lit city in which it occurred.” – ForeWord Magazine

“Colquhoun details a true ‘crime of the century.’ In 1864, banker Thomas Briggs was the first person to be murdered on a British train. To mitigate public outcry and panic, Scotland Yard moved swiftly to identify the suspect, German tailor Franz Müller. Colquhoun details the transatlantic pursuit. Colquhoun’s narrative will appeal to British, rail, and legal historians. She does an excellent job of describing the case and the times. Highly recommended.” – Library Journal

“Colquhoun recounts the investigation and solution of the Victorian era’s ultimate locked-room mystery. Journalist Colquhoun has crafted a marvelously suspenseful account of the investigation, a trans-Atlantic manhunt, and the ensuing trial. This is an intriguing story about emerging forensics and also an engaging social history, focusing on how a spectacular crime, the first on a British railroad, riveted public attention." - Booklist

“Account of the first Victorian railway murder in Britain, and how the broader historical events surrounding the crime shaped the hunt for a killer. Colquhoun’s narrative takes readers from London to New York City and then back again as the police race to identify Briggs’ murderer and bring him to justice. The author’s suspenseful writing style and clear prose make the tale easy to read . . . Colquhoun expertly places the murder within the larger context of British, Continental European and American history. The book ends with a look at the changes wrought by Briggs’ killing and the ensuing trial. Despite the occasional slow spots, Colquhoun successfully balances suspense with historical accuracy.” – Kirkus Reviews

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