2020 Reading Challenge

2020 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 6 books toward her goal of 240 books.

Book Review: Murder by the Book by Claire Harman

I am a big fan of true crime, particularly historical true crime, and was immediately intrigued by the tie-in to the literary figures of the time given their stature and the cultural implications (and resonances with contemporary cultural battles over video games and music). Unfortunately, I found the book underwhelming in both regards – which was a huge disappointment… This may have been a murder that rocked Victorian London, but the presentation was surprisingly cold and clinical for all that. I didn’t need sensationalism, but was surprised at how dry the recitation of details felt – and there were PLENTY of details…

When the book shifted to focus on the literary angle, I was again a bit taken aback at how flat the story felt. It seemed almost like two books were written and then interspersed, rather than interwoven. I was hoping for a little more impact and a little less “just the facts, ma’am”… That may have been my misinterpretation of the blurb – although based on other reviews, I’m thinking it’s more an issue of overselling the drama in the description to intrigue readers. There’s nothing at all wrong with a straightforward factual retelling; they can be illuminating and informative and entertaining – when you know that’s what you’re walking into. Frankly, I think billing this one as “a thrilling true-crime story with an illuminating account of the rise of the novel form and the battle for its early soul among the most famous writers of the time” made this sound like a very different book than what it actually was. As a result I went in expecting big drama and it fell flat for me.

The writing is solid and the research clearly thorough; had it not been so oversold, my read (and expectations) would likely have taken me in a very different direction…

My review copy was provided by the Penguin First to Read program.

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