Victorian Murderesses by Debbie Blake

Victorian Murderesses by Debbie Blake

I am sucker for a good true crime non-fiction, any time — and Blake’s Victorian Murderesses absolutely satisfied my every expectation of the genre. It was gory and chilling, all the more so because of the historical grounding of each case covered here.

Each chapter — there are seven of them — examines a specific killer and the details of her crime(s). Four of them focus on British murderesses: Sarah Drake, Mary Ann Brogh, Kate Webster, and Mary Ann Cotton, while the remaining three cross the Atlantic to provide accounts of the disturbing murders perpetrated by Kate Bender, Lizzie Borden (of course), and Jane Toppan. I was grateful that Lizzie got only a chapter; the fame of her crime has sullied my interest in her case. I’ve simply read it too many times for it to invoke any novel shock, but I acknowledge that the Borden murders warrant a place in a book like this.

What makes Victorian Murderesses such a fantastic read is the way in which Blake colors in the context of these women’s lives; not only do we get a rare glimpse into their worlds, but the Victorian world as a whole, especially as it was for women of a certain working and middle class. The reader also gets to see how these women got away with their crimes for a significant part of their lives and how police operated to discover them. In some cases, like with Sarah Drake, I could not help but feel a bit sorry for the murderess as much as the victims; institutionalized sexism drove some of these women to extreme lengths — though I cannot say I condone their decisions to take innocent lives. In some cases, like Cotton’s and Webster’s I found myself wondering how it was possible for them to commit so many crimes without getting caught earlier! I wonder at how it was that Lizzie Borden became so famous when these other women committed so many more criminal acts.

Kate Bender and the Bender family were — for me — the most dastardly, the creepiest of the seven chapters. Their crimes were like those out of a grisly, B-rated horror where a family of four drives down a lonely farm road… and is never seen again… Brr. I feel shivers thinking of it now.

This was a fantastic true crime read, fun and gore all around, enough to keep you wanting more.

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