14. Murder by Candlelight


“In his essay, “The Decline of the English Murder,” George Orwell opined that the classic period of English homicide began about 1850 and died away circa 1925.  Reading the piece some years ago, I found myself inclined to disagree.”

Murder by Candlelight, Michael Knox Beran

Bought this book with no prior knowledge of it, wooed by the delightful cover and the bitchin' title.  As you all know, I am a big fan of historical true crime, and should it happen to be British, all the better.  This book, which covers some classic true crime of the early nineteenth century (all British, bien sur), and also includes some ruminations on the meaning of true crime, diversions on Thomas De Quincy and Thomas Carlyle, and Romanticism versus Rationalism, should have been the bee’s knees.

BUT.  It is SUCH a weird book.  Like, it’s sort of hard for me to understand how it got published.  As we have already affirmed, great concept, great title, sure.  But the writing is SO GODDAMNED WEIRD.  It’s baroque, and bloated, and Beran is totally full of himself and his own opinions.  He writes like he is this major cultural figure to whom we should all bow.  And I am pretty well-read, but I have never heard of him.  I just don’t understand the editor, who, upon reading this manuscript didn’t either red pencil the shit of out this book, or, more likely, tell Beran that maybe this wasn’t going to work out.  And I bought this in PAPERBACK.  So someone decided that after the hardcover run, more people would be interested??? Publishing is weird.

Let me clarify - it’s not terrible, just unnecessary.  And for a 239 page paperback about brutal murders it took me a looooong time to finish.  Lots of picking up and putting down again.  It’s just very self-indulgent, and I’m not convinced that Behan is some one I need to indulge.  Can only be recommended if you are desperate for murder by candlelight, and even then, I think I can recommend some better books.  (The Maul in the Pear Tree, just off the top of my head - which covers one of the murders Behan writes about here).

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017