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The Late Review: Crippen

23rd Jan, 2023

Author: Peter Tennant

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The copy of Crippen by Dan Weatherer that I received back in 2017 was courtesy of ill-fated Spectral Press, but there's currently a 2018 edition released by Father Darkness Publications appearing on Amazon, so that's the book I'll link to below. In a disclaimer the author is at pains to point out that though based on historical events, the book is a work of fiction.

Set in 1909 and adapted from Weatherer's stage play, this novella tells the story of wife murderer Dr. Hawley Crippen, whose chief claim to fame is that he was the first criminal to be captured with the aid of wireless telegraph. Weatherer gives us a capsule portrayal of an unhappy marriage, with Crippen on the one hand failing to make his mark in the medical world and on the other unable to keep on pandering to the financial demands of his wife Cora, who is intent on making a name for herself on the London stage as Belle Elmore. Cora is shown as a harridan, constantly belittling her husband and taking a lover, so that it seems almost inevitable that he will be thrown into the arms of secretary Ethel. Subsequently we have Cora's disappearance, suspicions voiced by her friends, Crippen accused of murder and found guilty at trial.

I suspect most people will know of Crippen solely from the wireless telegraph aspect of the story, and for those of us in that position Weatherer is excellent at putting flesh on the bones of the story. As a dramatization of true crime though it never really came alive for me, with the feeling that we are not going to get beneath the skin of the character and share what he is experiencing. It's a story that feels curiously listless, a going through the motions, rather than one that catches fire. I couldn't care much about any of the characters, not even the innocent Ethel, while Crippen and Cora never seemed anything more than people in a story to me, with attitudes and personality traits grotesquely exaggerated for dramatic effect, but the tone misjudged, almost comedic at times. Weatherer wisely keeps most of the wet work offstage and vague, giving himself elbow room to raise doubts about Crippen's guilt, and I wish that he had made more of the idea that Crippen might have been innocent of his wife's death, but it's difficult to see what more he could have convincingly done. As is, this is a book that passed the time entertainingly, but did little more than that, offers us nothing that demands to be read. If you're interested in true crime and variations thereof, then that may well be enough, but otherwise...



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