A fascinating and accessible insight into the history of murder and manslaughter in the English legal system.
Author – Kate Morgan
Pages – 346
Publishing Information – Muldark, 29th April, 2021
Murder: The Biography may surprise people who haven’t read the blurb, as the book actually looks at the way the British legal system looks at murder and the way it has changed over time. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting (though it does make this clear in the blurb as mentioned) though it was a pleasant surprise as I actually really enjoyed learning about the cases that changed the legal system and the impact the legal system subsequently had on other cases.
The book is well researched and the author obviously intelligent and knowledgeable. The parts that will still excite the majority of readers will be the more grisly cases, as is the morbid fascination in murder I imagine will attract the majority of casual crime readers to this book. Particularly interesting was the case of the 3 seamen lost at sea who killed and ate the cabin boy to survive and the subsequent legal case that followed.
I do think however it should be titled ‘homicide: the biography’ as it feels like at least 50% of the cases and analysis actually looks at manslaughter rather than murder itself. While the book makes clear there can be at times a fine line between the two (and of course, it’s worthwhile to look at manslaughter as a result) I felt there was too much time spent looking at manslaughter and negligence cases against doctors, governing bodies and companies – especially towards the end of the book where in most cases there is no suggestion that anybody actually deliberately murdered anyone, which this book is about.
Overall, it’s a fascinating and accessible insight into the history of homicide in the eyes of the law, that really gave me some valuable knowledge in a book I enjoyed reading. I’d still recommend it, and it’s expertly written, I just would have liked a little more murder.
The stories and the people involved in the history of murder are stranger, darker and more compulsive than any crime fiction.
There’s Richard Parker, the cannibalized cabin boy whose death at the hands of his hungry crewmates led the Victorian courts to decisively outlaw a defence of necessity to murder. Dr Percy Bateman, the incompetent GP whose violent disregard for his patient changed the law on manslaughter. Ruth Ellis, the last woman hanged in England in the 1950s, played a crucial role in changes to the law around provocation in murder cases. And Archibald Kinloch, the deranged Scottish aristocrat whose fratricidal frenzy paved the way for the defence of diminished responsibility. These, and many more, are the people – victims, killers, lawyers and judges, who unwittingly shaped the history of that most grisly and storied of laws.
Join lawyer and writer Kate Morgan on a dark and macabre journey as she explores the strange stories and mysterious cases that have contributed to UK murder law. The big corporate killers; the vengeful spouses; the sloppy doctors; the abused partners; the shoddy employers; each story a crime and each crime a precedent that has contributed to the law’s dark, murky and, at times, shocking standing.