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Murder in the First-Class Carriage: The…

Murder in the First-Class Carriage: The First Victorian Railway Killing (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Kate Colquhoun

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177667,048 (3.53)10
Title:Murder in the First-Class Carriage: The First Victorian Railway Killing
Authors:Kate Colquhoun
Info:Overlook Hardcover (2011), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Nonfiction, History, London, England, Crime, Victorian Era, Trains, Ships, New York, 1860s, British Justice System, First Edition

Work details

Mr Briggs' Hat: A Sensational Account Of Britain's First Railway Murder by Kate Colquhoun (Author) (2011)



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Showing 5 of 5
In 1864, a train's first-class carriage was discovered to be empty of passengers but liberally smeared in blood. Some hours later, the original occupant was found--dead, his body discarded near the train tracks. The police tracked his stolen top hat and watch chain through the pawn shops of London, and quickly zeroed in on a suspect: a poor German tailor. But by the time they discovered his identity, Franz Müller had already gotten on a ship to America (currently in the throes of their Civil War). The lead detective tracked him down and, though there was some political & legal trouble over the extradition (both sides in America wishing for more aid from the UK at the time, and insulted that they weren't getting it), brought him back to London for a swift trial. On the basis of his owning a hat and watch chain that were probably the banker's, Müller was convicted of murder and hanged.

This is mostly useful in revealing the types of investigative, journalistic, and legal procedures of the time. The detectives were hampered by being a fairly new profession (established only twenty-two years earlier), and still without the ability to even definitively tell animal blood from human. So instead, they mostly relied on evidence that modern courts would call circumstantial. Meanwhile, the papers went mad for this murder, to the extent that mobs waited for hours for the chance to see Müller. And in terms of the trial, the accused was not allowed to speak in his own defense, and trials were customarily very short.

The truth of what truly happened that night in 1864 may never be known--certainly Colquhoun doesn't really know. So for readers looking for a murder mystery, this might feel a little dissatisfying. But as a snap-shot of mid-Victorian English justice, it's fascinating. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
The telling of the murder, the suspects, the witnesses, the evidence (or lack thereof), etc. were all interesting aspects of the story. But I began to skim about two-thirds of the way through due to the repetitiveness of this same information. That this is based on an actual happening appealed to me. Wanting to learn the outcome without just jumping to the last few pages, I did finish the book but it wasn't as captivating for me as I had hoped. ( )
  cupatea | Apr 19, 2014 |
I must admit to a certain initial prejudice against purchasing this book because, having read the blurb, it seemed to me an attempt to cash in on the success of Kate Summerscale's excellent 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher'. Indeed Jack Whicher is mentioned in these pages as a contemporary of the detective Inspector Richard Tanner who is the chief investigator of the murder of Thomas Briggs in a Victorian railway carriage, the subject of Kate Colquhon's book. It's certainly true that the Colquhon story covers the same period of history, tracks the investigation of a real-life high-profile murder and treats its subject in a very similar style to Kate Summerscale, but I came to the conclusion that I couldn't blame the author for the publisher's opportunism and that her own credentials were anyway impeccable. So I bought the book.

I'm glad I did. As with 'Mr Whicher' I was transported to mid-Victorian England and was as thoroughly engaged with the murder, the investigation, the chase, trial and aftermath as newspaper readers of the time obviously were, though Colquhon writes with far more restraint than many of those journalists covering the story. Ms Colquhoun's admirable research allows us not only to become steeped in the details of the case but also to have a tangible sense of the lived context, with plenty of rich descriptive background to place the reader in the territory. We do hear the occasional riffle of research notes but in general the learning is presented subtly and in tune with the narrative.

Tanner is not brought to life as effectively as Summerscale's Whicher, but the difficult-to-pin-down Francis Muller - the supposed villain of the piece - is very carefully drawn in all his ambiguities.

This being real life, there is no fully realised close-the-book resolution, but Colquhon makes that a strength of her book, particularly in the final chapters. I won't say more than that, not wishing to give too much of the game away, but I do warn readers not to take too close a look at the picture captions before you've finished the narrative, otherwise you will discover more than you may wish to know at that point. ( )
  Davidgnp | May 21, 2013 |
I truly enjoy these out of the ordinary slightly unusual historical tales.
This first murder in a railcar had many very extraordinary circumstances and the author has done excellent research and laid out the investigations, discoveries, court proceedings in a chronological basis and gives you as much info as possible.
But it got to be too much for me - felt like I was slogging through the same info, recountings again and again and again . . .
I know this is what happens in crime solving - facts that seem the same, info that has been heard previously takes on a different slant, witnesses change slightly, and there were no clear cut absolutes.
I only wonder if this could have been told somehow in a shorter version - I was hoping for a 'story' that I could read, not a crime that I had to solve, and so it became a struggle for me.
( )
  CasaBooks | Apr 28, 2013 |
I have been fascinated by the idea of a murder occurring on a train ever since Murder on the Orient Express. Being a true crime buff, because truth is often stranger than fiction, and also a fan of Victorian London, I thought this would be right up my alley. In truth it was very dry, like week old toast dry. Not even butter and jelly could have saved it.

The novel relates the true tale of poor Mr. Briggs. One night while heading home on a train he never reaches his destination. All that is left behind is a hat, not his, and his bloody railway car. He is soon located but is mortally wounded and unable to describe his assailant. Through some dogged detective work and circumstantial evidence a likely suspect is found but he is able to flee before the net is closed. The chase is on and the book goes on to lay out the facts of the case.

While some interesting facts were presented, the author repeated herself a lot. It was clear from the copious notes in the back that the author did her research but the detectives conclusions were repeated in the trial portion of the book too closely. In addition the book suffered from the case itself not being very interesting. As far as I could make out it seemed that Mr. Briggs was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The motive for the crime was rather murky and I don't think fully established. If the killer had been tried today any lawyer worth his salt would have gotten the defendant off based on the case as it was presented here. Since there wasn't any forensic evidence tested like it would be today, the true guilt of the person who murdered Mr. Briggs can never fully be determined which is a draw back to the book.

This kind of true crime historical novel is the type that author Erik Larson does so well. I just don't think there was enough of a story here for a whole novel and the additional information added in for padding was not interesting enough for anything but a brief skimming over or putting you to sleep. ( )
  arielfl | Jul 30, 2012 |
Showing 5 of 5

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Colquhoun, KateAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Arduini, AdaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maarup, Lars ZachoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On the evening of 9 July 1864, Benjamin Ames, a thirty-eight-year-old train guard, was on edge.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The fascinating story of the first ever railway murder in 1864.

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