Murder Most Victorian

I am a good person. A kind person. I love animals. I brake for pedestrians. I return my shopping cart to the cart corral. Usually.

Yet, as a writer, I spend my ‘work day’ thinking about how to make my characters miserable, and it’s rare that a day goes by that I don’t think about murder…or an insanely clever way to dispose of a body.

Perfectly normal, right? RIGHT????

But, see, I’m not the only one with this contradictory nature. Victorians loved the delicious, deviant thrill of hearing about terrible things. Inveterate pearl-clutchers on the outside, on the inside, they seethed with the desire to know all the details of whatever gruesome death had been reported in the newspapers – or next door. Whichever.


Death was far more present, familiar, and above all, visible to Victorians. I remember reading in Isabelle Allende’s ‘Fortune’s Daughter’ about how completely normal it was for a virgin to know more about death than sex.

Death came like an unexpected guest to rich and poor alike, however, Victorians were unfailingly courteous to the bitter end. They turned bedside vigils into social calls, funerals into music hall dramas, and wakes into tea parties with finger sandwiches and milky condolences.

When death was discourteous enough to be brash, blunt, and sudden – lacking all subtlety and sensibility – it made up for its appalling want of manners and feeling by providing the entertainment of a *whispers* investigation.

The 19th century saw both upheaval and progress in the way crime was detected. The evolution of the modern police force went hand-in-hand with the first forensic tests for arsenic, advances in autopsy procedures, and  the development of investigational methodologies.


The Victorians certainly were clued into the fact that death – or, more specifically, murder – could be delightful. Well, delightfully entertaining. When it wasn’t happening to them.

Naturally, I have found their delight equally delightful in both reading the books they read and reading about how they read books…and investigated murders.

To that end, I’m introducing a new feature on this blog: A Cait Reynolds Reading List.

  • The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl
  • The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl
  • The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld
  • Death at the Priory by James Ruddick
  • The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale
  • The Beautiful Cigar Girl by Daniel Stashtower
  • The Invention of Murder by Judith Flanders

One of my favorite things about college was getting the reading list for every class. I loved going to the bookstore, but even more, I loved reading the books and seeing how they all connected facts, ideas, interpretations, and built a whole, full, rich picture of a subject.

It was the start of a rather serious and expensive addiction to non-fiction.

After I left college, I continued to do the same thing, though at first, it wasn’t on purpose. I would simply get fascinated by a topic and read everything I could.

I even found fiction that met my Picky Bitch standards.

Naturally, these are not the only books that are excellent on this topic. But, in a world of too many choices, sometimes it’s nice to have at least a guide to choosing.

If you like this, let me know, and I will do more of these reading lists. I’ve been putting them together for the past 20 years, so I have plenty of material.

Leave a comment if there is a particular topic you’d like me to do a reading list for, or if you’d like to some non-fiction-only or fiction-only lists!