What you see is what you get?

Some years ago while researching my family tree, I came across the website www.victorianlondon.org. It's a fantastically helpful site for just about anything you could want to know about Victorian London, and the daily life of Victorians, so much so that it was used extensively by Anthony Horowitz when researching House of Silk. Which brings me to The diary of a murder by Lee Jackson. Lee is the person who set up and runs Victorianlondon, so he knows his stuff. And, without a doubt, The diary of a murder is one of the most enjoyable historical crime novels I've read in some time. It also had a rather troubled publishing history, which should be of great comfort to anyone who's desperately trying to get into print. For more on this see Lee's page on the novel.

Diary is a very clever novel. The basic plotline is simple enough. A seemingly happily married Victorian couple,Jacob and Dora Jones, have recently moved into new accommodation. Parents become concerned that they've lost contact with their daughter. Police enter property and discover daughter brutally murdered, and no sign of her husband. There appears to be no reason why he would have murdered his wife, but why has he vanished? Police find and read husband's diary, and discover a tale of depression, adultery and suicide, but also the apparent innocence of the husband, and a most unlikely femme fatale. Jones comes across in his diary as a Mr. Pooter-type character, who works for the Crystal Palace Company, loves his wife, and seemingly leads an ordinary life. His diary reveals that he has a dark secret in his past - an alcoholic father, who has served time for theft, and a fascination for a young woman of a lower social class.

Can the police piece the jigsaw together and uncover the true story behind the murder? As the (rather clever) publisher's blurb says on the back of the novel "Read the police investigation -- read the diary itself -- and uncover the truth."

Most of the novel is divided into diary extracts from the missing husband and a narrative of the actions of the police. There is also a later section which gives the novel a twist. Actually, the publisher's blurb is bang on. If you follow the reports and the diary, the reader should be able to have an educated guess at the murderer, but it's very cleverly done. The ending is as chilling an ending as you could hope for. And the style is reminiscent of some of the great Victorian mystery writers such as Wilkie Collins. This isn't just for historical effect either, as writing style is a crucial element to the mystery.

I absolutely loved this novel, and spent one rather grey Saturday devouring it. If you're a lover of murder mysteries and Victoriana, Diary of a murder is definitely for you.


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