The Mile End Murder by Sinclair McKay

Review published on August 13, 2017.

There seems to be no end to the appetite for bloody tales of Victorian London, both in fact and fiction. This factual account is somewhat different than most in this genre as it is set more than twenty-eight years before the Jack the Ripper murders and focuses on the hunt for the killer of a rich elderly widow named Mary Emsley. It proved to be a sensational case in its day and there were a number of suspects. Even after the outcome of the investigation, people continued to discuss it and forty years later it was the turn of Arthur Conan Doyle to bring his “Holmesian” eye to the crime. However, even he failed to come to a satisfactory conclusion.

I enjoyed reading this account of the killing and the investigation surrounding it. The author uses elements of the case to explore facets of Victorian London. Nothing happens in isolation and McKay weaves the victim and the suspects into the economic and social turmoil of the day. The author clearly has an eye for detail and his meticulous research into the case is evident. It is somewhat poignant that such a case has disappeared from popular consciousness – perhaps eclipsed by the brutality and notoriety of the later Whitechapel murders.

The book is noticeably presented as “the case that Conan Doyle couldn’t solve” – however, I feel this is somewhat of a distraction. The account of the investigation would have stood on its own merits, with the Conan Doyle element just part of the overall narrative. Nevertheless, I will be eager to re-visit the book when published later this year, as it is only then that the chapter with McKay’s conclusion will be made available.

Sue Hardiman 4/3

The Mile End Murder by Sinclair McKay
Aurum Press Ltd 9781781316436 hbk Sep 2017

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