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  • Published: 25 October 2018
  • ISBN: 9780241315231
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 256

Murder by the Book

A Sensational Chapter in Victorian Crime

A gripping investigation into the crime that scandalized literary London, from Dickens to Thackeray

On a spring morning in 1840, on an ultra-respectable Mayfair street, a household of servants awoke to discover that their unobtrusive master, Lord William Russell, was lying in bed with his throat cut so deeply that the head was almost severed.

The whole of London, from monarch to maidservants, was scandalized by the unfolding drama of such a shocking murder, but behind it was another story, a work of fiction. For when the culprit eventually confessed, he claimed his actions were the direct result of reading the best-selling crime-novel of the day. This announcement amazed the key literary figures of the time, from Thackeray to Dickens, and posed the question: can a work of fiction do real harm?

  • Published: 25 October 2018
  • ISBN: 9780241315231
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 256

About the author

Claire Harman

Claire Harman is the award-winning biographer of Sylvia Townsend Warner, Fanny Burney, Robert Louis Stevenson and Charlotte Bronte, as well as the bestselling Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World and the Victorian crime investigation Murder by the Book. She is also a prizewinning poet and short story writer. She lives in Oxford.

Also by Claire Harman

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Praise for Murder by the Book

[A] riveting investigation into a transgression that scandalised the literati of Victorian London in 1840. An engrossing fireside festive treat

The Bookseller

[A] scandalous Victorian mystery... Harman tells the story with clarity and vigour

Guardian Book of the Day

[Harman] is a storyteller, with a sense of pace and timing, relish for a good scene and a wry sense of humour


A fascinating account.... As Harman skilfully reveals, the real story behind the famous murder is the complex one about the harmful influence of fiction on the mind of the reader.

The Times

A fascinating portrait of Victorian London amid the rising popularity of the novel

The Observer

A riveting investigation into a true and vicious murder that shocked Victorian London

Woman & Home



Harman paints a vivid picture of London in thrall to the Jack Sheppard phenomenon.... a brilliant piece of literary detective work

Evening Standard

Harman resists sensationalising the murder... Instead, she offers a long view of the circular relationship between crime and literature

New Statesman

The book's heft lies in its rich detail...characters and settings are so vivid that Murder By The Book will surely soon be snatched up by television producers seeking their next Victorian crime drama

Daily Mail

There is enough ambiguity in the story of Russell's end to satisfy even the most ardent lovers of detective fiction, and Harman's enjoyment at piecing together the evidence is clear

BBC History Magazine

This beautifully produced and impressively researched historical account of a celebrated Victorian murder with a literary twist reads like a thriller. I devoured it in one sitting, and was at once enthralled and chilled. Highly recommended!

Alison Weir

Vivid and punchy prose