By Debbie Blake
Publication Date: October 30, 2022
The Victorian Era tends to be thought of as a time when women were demure and “well behaved”, whether because it’s how they believed they should be, focused solely on the comfort of their family, or because they didn’t have much choice. Of course, statistically speaking, not everyone conformed to societal expectations, although some acted out worse than others. This book provides a selection of the worst female criminals caught and tried during the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
I think the general assumption is that Victorian murders committed by females tended toward poisonings. While there is one very prolific poisoner in this book, most of these murders are much more gruesome. And reader be warned, if you’re easily triggered by child harm, I would advise skipping the first few stories.
From women scorned, to greed, to sheer insanity, the women in these pages encompassed just about every motive for murder. Several of them were found guilty and subsequently executed, many spent their lives in an asylum, considering that the criteria for insanity (or temporary insanity) was much laxer a century ago (not to mention the lack of police forensics). Some were never captured by the law.
The book includes women from both England and the UK, most of whom I’d never heard of (with the exception of Lizzie Borden.) The accounts are meticulously researched and provide facts from news coverage and court transcripts. The fate of each woman is also presented, if known.
I originally requested this book for my own research purposes and while it did give me fodder for future antagonists, I wish there had been a broader social overview of period-specific crime presented. Something to tie the stories together; to show if these women were isolated incidents or more normal than we realize, thanks to the fog of history and things that polite society doesn’t like to talk about. (Speaking of “polite society,” the party atmosphere surrounding an execution or the site of a tragedy was mind blowing in several stories.)
If you’re a huge fan of Investigation Discovery and/or you can’t get enough of true crime shows, check this one out. The forerunners of modern murderesses were much more ferocious and blatant than you may think.
3.5/5 stars ⭐⭐⭐+
Thank you to NetGalley and Pen and Sword Books for providing the ARC. I’ve left my review honestly and voluntarily.
Until next time, thank you for visiting.