Victorian era crimes have an oddly enduring appeal for folks of every literary taste and political predilection. For liberals, the dark underbelly of that prim and proper age seems to demonstrate the notion that moral repression breeds violence and hypocrisy; for conservatives, the fact that evil and sin lurked even beneath such a blessedly restrained surface, confirms a view of the world as old as the story of the Garden of Eden. Fans of the great detectives take comfort in the idea that the mysteries of human behavior must yield to reason, science, and rigorous procedure. Fans of the criminals revel in the impenetrability of the darkest recesses of the human heart and mind. But regardless of your own personal views, there's no gainsaying the hold that Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes and company continue to exert on our imaginations.
Illustrator Rick Geary has been tapping into this lurid fascination for over a decade now, and NBM Publishing is reissuing some of the earlier works in his acclaimed "Victorian Murders" series, beginning with the first, A Treasury of Victorian Murders. Mr. Geary accompanies three brief tales of deliciously bloody (or poisonous) mayhem and murder with an introductory section that sets the Victorian stage and provides some background on the times and the more famous personages of the day. His black-and-white drawings--which might owe something to Edward Gorey but are nonetheless distinctive and original--provide a winsome, tongue-in-cheek contrast to the horrid events that he relates. As he mentions in a 1987 introduction, one of the things that makes the cases so much fun is that even though the society maintained a veneer of respectability, it coincided with the rise of mass daily papers, all intent on out-sensationalizing each other. So when such ghoulish crimes did occur, they gave free reign to the newspapers to engage in the most outrageous speculations about peoples backgrounds and behaviors. He takes evident delight in casually dropping such rumors into the midst of the ornate and fusty little sitting rooms and the forbidding courtrooms in which his stories occur. It all makes for a delightfully droll good time.
Copyright 1998-2015 Orrin Judd