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 (The Thrifty Cookbook, 2011, etc.) examines the murder of Thomas Briggs in July 1864 as he was traveling on the North London railway. Violently attacked, Briggs was discovered near death on the train tracks, his compartment soaked in blood. The evidence was slim; only a bloodstained hat and a broken watch chain found in the compartment provided any clues for the investigation into the 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, but occasionally the story can become dry due to the amount of information packed into the book. Colquhoun includes quotes from the historical record and seamlessly weaves them into her story, but at times these details can become overwhelming—e.g., the author’s account of the extradition hearing is unnecessarily long. However, 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.