Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Crippen Review

-       John Boyne
Publisher: Black Swan
July 1910: A gruesome discovery has been made at 39 Hilldrop Crescent, Camden.
Chief Inspector Walter Dew of Scotland Yard did not expect the house to be empty. Nor did he expect to find a body in the cellar. Buried under the flagstones are the remains of Cora Crippen, former music-hall singer and wife of Dr. Hawley Crippen. No one would have thought the quiet, unassuming Dr. Crippen capable of murder, yet the doctor and his mistress have disappeared from London, and now a full-scale hunt for them has begun. Across the Channel in Antwerp, the S.S. Montrose has just set off on its two-week voyage to North America. Slipping in among the first-class passengers is a Mr. John Robinson, accompanied by his teenage son, Edmund. The pair may be hoping for a quiet, private voyage, but in the close confines of a luxury ocean liner, anonymity is rare. And with others aboard looking for romance, or violence, or escape from their past in Europe, it will take more than just luck for the Robinsons to survive the voyage unnoticed.
When I started reading this book I didn’t know about Crippen or his infamous crime. Happening in 1910 it was a little before my time! J So I approached this book as a true novel rather than a fictional biography and I really enjoyed it. The story alternates each chapter between Crippen’s life story and his plans to be a doctor, and between the launch of the ship where a certain Mr Robinson and his son are heading to Canada for a fresh start. Over time these two stories come together like shuffling a pack of cards.
The writing style was so easy to follow and engaging. While the focus would switch between characters in one scene, it was done in such an easy method that it was never confusing and felt more like a tracking camera angle following people in a crowd than anything else. The variety of people on board the ship gives the story a real flavour and an insight into the importance of class in society in those days. In fact I was a little disappointed that some of the other people’s stories weren’t explored in as much detail and while Crippen’s story is nicely completed, I was left wanting to know more about the other passengers!
Although the initial hook was a crime story, it reads as more of a society at the start of the twentieth century. I admit I felt quite a bit of sympathy for Crippen as he is continually thwarted in his early ambitions to be a medical doctor and fails to stand up for himself with strong women. But at the same time he is quite a cold man and the scene of him in his dental surgery was very chilling! Generally though I struggled to the book down as I wanted to know the circumstances that lead to Cora Crippen’s gruesome end – and I wasn’t disappointed. A truly engaging read that chills and entertains.
Recommended for fans of Beryl Bainbridge and Robert Harris. 8 out of 10


  1. I do not know if it is the book for me, but it still does sound cool. I am glad you enjoyed it :)

  2. I'm interested in this one but another review I read said that it's not very historically accurate. If that's true it does put me off a bit.

  3. Oh I actually think I know the perfect person for this book. Yes... recommendation! Thanks!

  4. I'm not sure if this is a fit for me but I'll be on the look out for it.