August 14, 2016

Crippen Gets the Novel Treatment in John Boyne's Page Turner

CrippenCrippen by John Boyne

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Why do I find murderers so fascinating? I don't even want to kill a deer to eat unless it's an emergency, and I'd rather not then. Anyway, Crippen is such an interesting figure because he seems the last sort of person to do the deed he was convicted of. In fact, there are those who believe him innocent and suspect Ethel LeNeve or even an unknown third party. To which faction does the author belong? I won't spoil that for you, but I did like that he kept his solution under wraps until near the end of the book.
The book begins towards the end of the saga, in Antwerp aboard the Montrose which is bound for Canada. First there is a long scene in which an unpleasant woman demonstrates her claims for the title of Upper Class Twit of the Year, and the reader begins to wonder when the actual story will start. Finally a man and boy calling themselves John and Edmund Robinson appear as fellow passengers to the dreadful woman, and the stage begins to be set. I say "begins," because this is one complicated play.
At first it feels too disjointed as we leave the ship to watch a social climber complain to her husband and dream of becoming a Lady. I grew rather annoyed but kept reading until the connection to the Crippen story was finally made clear--this former dance-hall girl was the woman who first notified police that Cora Crippen had been murdered. Watch as she hounds the police and even pinches a constable's bottom!
And then suddenly, the next chapter has the marriage of yet more people we have not yet heard of. Oh, it's Crippen's parents! So every third chapter or so we're going to go way back in time until finally we catch back up to the present of the other chapters. Great.
Besides really not caring for that chopped-up format (oh dear, what a phrase to use in this particular review! Sorry!) I found some modern sentiments and phrases that were thrown in to be rather jarring. It seemed that a few facts had been played with, but I am not a Crippen expert so I may be wrong on that. I thought some of the characters were very well done and found myself wanting to know more about them. The three main players seemed pretty accurate from what I have read, though I have not come across anything suggesting a true sadistic streak in Hawley Crippen before. It definitely added a creepy touch to the story though. Cora was, if anything, not as terrible here as I expected her to be, but still the sort of person one could easily imagine wanting to kill if one had to deal with her very often. Ethel is much more subtle and really remains rather mysterious, which I liked.
A NOTE FOR THE SQUEAMISH: This murder case is one of most famous because the method of disposal of the corpse was to cut it into pieces and hide them under the basement floor tiles, except for the head which was never found. If you've survived reading that, you'll probably be alright. The book does not go into a whole lot more detail than that.
So did I like the book? Yes, overall I did. I even plan to see if there are any others by the same author at the library. I just hope that his others do not follow a similar patchwork format!

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