DUBLIN in 1856 is the setting for this gripping work of historical research, where certain incidental details are as memorable as the brutal murder at its center.
George Little was the head cashier at Broadstone station in Dublin. When his colleagues showed up for work one fateful November morning 165 years ago, they found he had been brutally beaten and his throat slit so deeply he was nearly beheaded. Stranger still, thousands of pounds of cash, gold, and silver lay untouched on the desk. Only after it emerged that the killer had taken a large sum of money on the evening of the barbaric murder.
Thomas Morris guides us in the footsteps of the life of the late George Little until his untimely death. It also takes us through the – unfortunately more laborious – stages of the police investigation.
Long before Morris comments that the investigation was deeply flawed, he simply describes arrivals and departures from the scene of the murder on the morning of its discovery.
While we’ve grown accustomed to the countless murder stories of the basic premise that the scene must be preserved, it’s ridiculous to read how many people have trampled the space before the scene can be properly examined.
It was a time when murders like this were rare and the sensational ripples they sent through Dublin and beyond are well documented here.
There are so many gripping details in this book that the most insatiable fans of court dramas and police procedurals would be satisfied, even as early as preliminary coroner’s court hearings – the pen-and-ink photos of the players, their weaknesses, vanities, twists and turns. sentences, and ubiquitous decency in many ways, but not all.
It was a time – probably still with us – when audiences were memorably described by Thomas De Quincey as becoming morbidly “murder lovers”.
The social history of the time is fascinating. The detectives were suspected by the public of being “G-men”, a remnant of Dublin Castle’s G Division, where the government sniffed out nascent nationalist movements.
As the inquest dragged on, there were proponents of exhuming the body of the deceased in the belief that the image of the murderer could be found imprinted on the retina in the dead man’s eyes. A railroad worker brought a clairvoyant to the station in hopes of communicating with the deceased and picking up clues that had eluded detectives.
It’s tempting to describe in detail how the investigation and trial unfolded, but that would spoil an engaging read.
When the police hear of powerful evidence from a woman about her husband in the case, there is an unsolvable legal problem: “By marriage, husband and wife are one person in law: c that is to say, the very being or legal existence of woman is suspended. during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated in that of the husband”.
Then there is the phrenologist who believes he can tell the accused’s propensity for murder by certain angles of compartments in the brain.
There are such colorful details, including that one of the judges had a youthful romance with Jane Austen and may have been the inspiration for her immortal Mr. Darcy. There’s so much more to this very well-chosen and carefully researched true crime from our past.
- The Dublin Railway Murder: The Sensational True Story of a Victorian Murder Mystery by Thomas Morris
- Harvill Secker, hb 14,99 €