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Tag Archive: HISTORY


Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

In the small-but-crowded field of Victorian true crime, Paul Thomas Murphy′s 2016 release Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane: A True Story of Victorian Law and Disorder presents a notable installment in the genre.  Covering a lesser-known crime that was the sensation of its day, Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane details the brutal murder of Jane Clouson, a sixteen-year-old London maid-of-all-work, and the legal fiasco that followed, including—but hardly limited to—the murder trial of suspect Edmund Pook.  Murphy begins his account like a thriller, a police procedural of a bygone era of evolving law enforcement and burgeoning forensics.  His heroes are the detectives, witnesses, and doctors who come forward to uncover the truth of Clouson’s attack—and the identity of her attacker.  Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane is available now in a paperback edition.

In his riveting step-by-step analysis of the investigation, Murphy paints a vivid picture of 1870s London—its law enforcement, its residents, and the neighborhoods torn apart by the culture clash of young Clouson’s murder.  This section of the book really shines, offering both an excellent overview of period forensic science and police procedure, as well as enticing tidbits like the cost of a photograph or the unexpectedly fascinating workings of a ironmonger’s shop from the era.

The second part of Murphy’s tale, leading readers through the labyrinth of the 19th century English justice system, loses a bit of momentum, although that’s as much the challenge of presenting the welter of material about the case (four separate steps to the murder trial and all the attendant solicitors, barristers, judges, and witnesses) as the challenge of making the mystifying Victorian trial process understandable.  That said, it’s unclear who the audience for the book is meant to be—American readers wholly unfamiliar with the byzantine and confusing steps of a Victorian murder trial; or English readers who will find the basics—if not the details (which have changed substantially in the intervening 145 years)—relatable.  Readers brand-new to the subject will likely find themselves lost and confused by references to the Treasury Department (which handled many public prosecutions until the 1980s) and similar trappings, and may struggle to stick with the book through the legal morass.  It is not a spoiler to note that Pook was acquitted of the murder, but the legal battles surrounding him were far from over.  Murphy offers up a cast of characters who, beyond mere professional adversaries, become almost mortal enemies as the many facets of the case churn on.

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If Classics Illustrated was ever your thing or you like peering into fantastical worlds, a new graphic novel series online will be worth checking out.  It’s not really about a fantasy setting as found in Black Panther or Flash Gordon or Tarzan or Conan, but it has the same appeal, the same visual cues, bold colors, and feel.  It’s Aztec Empire, by writer Paul Guinan (known for his time-bending mash-up Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel and his participation in the documentary 24 Hour Comic) and comic artist David Hahn.  It features an incredible culture from the past along with good storytelling that will keep you coming back for more.  And it’s timed right, as this spring is the 500th anniversary of the events featured in the introductory pages of the series.

As with the Eisner Award-winning writer-artist Eric Shanower’s look at ancient Greece in his Age of Bronze graphic novel series, Aztec Empire is a heavily researched time travel voyage back into the daily lives of a people in history, in this case the period before the fall of the Aztec peoples to the Spanish in 1521, only three years after the arrival of Europeans.  Guinan researched dozens of primary sources (including contemporary writings from the 1500s) as well as secondary historical sources, and the end of each episode of his series provides six pages of equally fascinating explanatory annotations to the historical record to support each panel.  Some of these feature photographs of the source materials used to derive the look of references like glyphs on walls, or embellishments on character clothing.  In many ways Aztec Empire is an attempt to update the writings of the past with the benefit of today’s resources and knowledge, but its sources are very much contemporary to the events chronicled.  Human barbarism to other humans is also not reserved for only one side of the story–here the atrocities of each side of the conquest come to the fore.

Guinan is not only the series writer, he provides layouts, coloring, and lettering.  “In telling this story, my main challenge is keeping it as authentic as possible,” says Guinan.  “All the persons and events depicted in Aztec Empire are based on the factual record, with some extrapolation as to specific character motivations, dialogue, costume details, etc.  I’m cross-referencing primary sources from different viewpoints, looking at Mesoamerican and European sources with an awareness of their cultural biases as well as my own.”  Hahn designed the look of the characters and provides the finished pencil work and inks.  The combined artwork shares a style in common with the animated style of Doug Wildey and something of P. Craig Russell’s work on his illustrated novels.

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Sometimes the inbox offers up something really exciting and fun.  Today the HISTORY channel greenlighted ten episodes of the unscripted series In Search Of, hosted and executive produced by Zachary Quinto, who audiences all met in the series Heroes, and now everyone knows as the actor who played the parallel universe (“Kelvin Timeline”) version of Mr. Spock opposite Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock.  The original In Search Of… was your humble Editor’s own first introduction to Leonard Nimoy as a kid in the 1970s.  The series was a weekly show between 1977 and 1982, first briefly hosted by Rod Serling, but it became synonymous with Nimoy’s one-of-a-kind narration.  In 2002 Syfy Channel tried to reboot the show with our favorite FBI director actor Mitch Pileggi as the host, but that was short-lived.   Inspired by the iconic 1970s’ franchise, the new series will examine unexplained phenomena from all over the world.  As HISTORY stated in its press release: “UFOs and paranormal mysteries remain relevant as the Pentagon recently acknowledged a secret UFO program which investigated sightings of UFOs from 2007 – 2012.”

The Bermuda Triangle, Bigfoot, Atlantis, Amelia Earhart, Easter Island, the Loch Ness monster, Stonehenge, the Mayans, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the sinking of the Titanic and Lusitania, the Shroud of Turin, D.B. Cooper, and the Holy Grail.  If you were a kid in the 1970s, the odds are you learned about all of these from Nimoy on this series.  The mix of mythology and lore and fact and fiction with the authority of Nimoy prompted me to check out books on the subjects from my local library to investigate further about which stories seemed plausible and which didn’t.  An updated instrumentation or at least a new recording of the classic theme song will be a must for fans of the original show.

“I am so excited to be reimagining ‘In Search Of’ and exploring new questions and phenomena with all of the advancements in science and technology from which we have benefitted in the past forty years since the original series first aired,” said Quinto.  “In the spirit of my late dear friend Leonard Nimoy, we intend to honor and perpetuate his endless curiosity about the world – and universe – in which we live.”

If you missed the series, just watch this classic episode from Nimoy, In Search Of… Bigfoot:

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