On July 9th 1864. A body is thrown from a train, blood is found spattered over the locked first class carriage of a train, a discarded leather bag, an ivory-knobbed walking stick and a hat. Great start?
Plot, pace, tension, suspense, good characterisation, surprises, shocks, twists and turns are all the things that make good crime fiction. But, A) Mr Briggs Hat is not crime fiction, it is true crime; B) it has none of the above list of attributes.
Dry and repetitive, this book is about the first railway murder in England it is obviously based on extensive research and this is exactly how it reads, research, a data dump. It is written as if it were a dissertation with the information repeated, reworked and extended in order to turn it into a book. We need insight into characters, so that we may care about them. We long to be intrigued and tantalised. We want to be told a good story by a great storyteller.
It can be done for ‘true crime,’ try Hellhound on his Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin by Hampton Sides. The never ending details of Victorian Rail travel, Victorian Press reporting and of Victorian society bog down this book. While odd bits of history are interesting, too much just holds up the action and brings the ‘plot’ almost to a halt.
If you enjoyed The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale you will probably enjoy this book.