(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky NOV 6, 2007)
John Boyne's Crippen is a superb historical mystery in which the author puts his own spin on a heinous crime that took place in Camden, England in 1910. Dr. Hawley Crippen is not really a doctor, but rather a mousy individual who has read up on medical subjects and taken some correspondence courses. However, Hawley is not averse to passing himself off as a doctor in order to eke out a living. He is incredibly unlucky with women. When he marries for the second time, he makes the mistake of choosing a harridan named Cora, who abuses him both verbally and physically when she is not busy taking other men into her bed. After Cora is found murdered and hacked to death in the cellar of the Crippen household, Hawley is the prime suspect.
Crippen is a textured and suspenseful psychological study of how a mentally unstable parent can permanently damage her child, and how a monstrous woman can make her husband's existence into a living hell. In addition, Boyne brilliantly, and with mordant humor, analyzes the hypocrisy of the upper classes in England, the predatory nature of newspaper reporters, and the impossibility of ever fully understanding the complexity of people's motives, feelings, and desires.
The author constructs his story meticulously, teasing the reader with bits of information that become meaningful later on in the narrative. He goes back and forth in time, creating a rich and colorful tapestry with fully realized and lively characters. Among them are the insufferable Antoinette Drake, a self-absorbed and obnoxious dowager, Captain Kendall, the skipper of a luxurious transatlantic ocean liner who is distracted by the illness of the first officer whom he adores, and Ethel LeNeve, a young woman who finds something of value in Hawley and attempts to rescue him from his life of misery. John Boyne depicts Crippen as an extremely complex individual. Is he an innocent and self-effacing man who is desperate for affection and peace of mind or is he a conniving criminal trying to get away with murder? Boyne saves some tasty surprises for Crippen’s dramatic conclusion. This is a compelling and highly recommended tale of tortured love, heartache, and death.
- Amazon readers rating: from 20 reviews
(back to top)
Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Thief of Time (2000; 2007 US)
- The Congress of Rough Riders (2001)
- Crippen (2004; 2006 in US)
- The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2006)
- Next of Kin (2006; 2008 in US)
- Mutiny: A Novel of the Bounty (2008; 2009 in US)
- The House of Special Purpose (2009; 2010 in US)
- The Absolutist (2011; 2012 in US)
- This House is Haunted (October 2013)
Movies from books:
(back to top)
- Official website for John Boyne
- Reading Guide for Crippen
- BBC News - Crippen remains a mystery
- John Boyne on writing Next of Kin
- MostlyFiction review of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
(back to top)
About the Author:
John Boyne was born in 1971. He studied English at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland and Creative Writing at the prestigious University of East Anglia (UEA), Norwich. He returned to UEA ten years later, in 2005, as a Writing Fellow.
His first short story was published by the Sunday Tribune and shortlisted for a Hennessy Literary Award.
Boyne lives with his partner in Dublin, Ireland.