Book Review: ‘The Diary of a Murder’ by Lee Jackson

Posted: 5 December 2013 in Book reviews
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Called to the house of a young couple, the police discover the body of a woman, her husband missing.  In the morning room, also known as the living room or a parlour, on a desk was a diary.  What secrets were held within its pages?  As the husband had disappeared, it was the only evidence they had to determine what led to her untimely death.

The diary spins the tale of Jacob Jones, a young clerk at the Crystal Palace Company.  He and his young bride are in the process of moving to Islington.  This move is going to make money tighter than it already is, but it will makes his wife happy.  She comes from money and he has clearly married out of his league.

The diary seems to be the trivial movements of an average nobody, in-law drama, holiday celebrations, etc, until a new figure appears.  Dora, Jones’ wife, has always been under the assumption that her husbands parents were long dead.  But unknown to everyone, his father is not dead, but living a pitiful existence in a rundown part of town.  He appears in need of his son to help pay off a debt.  Jones will have nothing to do with it, but when the father searches him out in his new home and essentially attempts to blackmail him, he relents.

In the old mans care is a young woman, Ellen Hungerford, whom Jones feels possesses a certain morality.  He fears his father will corrupt the girl and does all he can to aid getting the girl out.  She is naive, but virtuous character who develops a crush on Jones.  She reveals this after he gets her work at his father-in-law’s factory and he and the wife take her out to a lecture.  This complicates the already delicate web in which both of them are entangled.  As Jones wants no one in his new life to discover the truth of his still living father, he creates a story for her.  She doesn’t like lying, but does so for him.

Beyond this, life seems to be going great.  Everything seems to going exactly as he needs.  He sees and hears from the girl seldom, which he hopes will quell her feeling for him, and his father even less now that he has a seemingly stable job and has quit drinking.  The only think he has to tolerate is his co-worker, Fortesque, the in-laws, church, and the house help.

Then Dora gets pregnant,  which gets him a raise at work.  Then she miscarries.  Dora sinks into a depression, which very little seems to get her out of.  She receives visit from her friend Mrs. Antrobus, which seems to revive her, but falls back shortly thereafter.  Trips to the Polytechnic also had a slight effect.  His last resort was a trip to Broadstairs.

The trip was going marvellously.  Dora was in great spirits and was active.  It wasn’t until the arrival of Mrs. Antrobus and Ellen that things turned.  Ellen and he had kissed the night his father died (accidental stabbing covered up by an accidental fire).  He tried to stay away from her, as his feelings for her had developed to more than mere concern and friendliness, but this time was too much.  He stayed home from an outing to be away from her, but she showed up to get a shawl for his wife.  Before he could stop himself, they made love and things were never the same between any of them.

While the police are reading the pages of the diary, they are also interviewing the various people mentioned with the pages.  They met with Dora’s parents, Mary-Anne (the maid), Mrs. Antrobus, and Mr. Fink (Jones’ boss), but nothing seems to add up.  The diary gives a version of events that no one can really dispute.  They can only hope that it offers up some clue to the whereabouts of the key players, Jones and Ellen.

I did enjoy this book.  It is hard not to enjoy something where you feel certain strong emotions for the characters.  In this case, the emotion was repugnance.  Jacob Jones is a truly despicable character.  His arrogance and haughtiness are appalling.  Sure you understand that his father was a bum and likely the cause of his mother’s death, but the way he treats him is beyond wretched.  He treats those he deems as beneath him with an air of tolerance, but feels no shame in chastising them if the need arises.  He tries to get you to believe that what he does has some more righteous significance, but it isn’t true.  He is simply a horrible person who cares little for anyone else, including his wife.  He tolerates her pain, but in reality, he doesn’t care.  He is selfish and cold.  Oh how splendidly he was penned.

The other characters, Dora, her parents, the Antrobus’, Ellen, Fortesque, his father, etc., have fleeting moments, but are nicely described.  Only Dora and Ellen appear frequently.  The characters really come alive because of their description.  It is very well written.

The story itself is intriguing and the layout of the book.  The chapters start with the police inquest and then conclude with entries from the diary.  I was happy only to notice one tiny editorial mistake (an additional word where one shouldn’t have been).  I found no gaping plot holes nor glaring grammatical errors.  It was a very well written book.  The dialogue and even the sentence structure was well dictated to truly give the reader the feeling that these people were really figures from the Victorian era rather than created caricatures.

This book is one I would recommend.  It paints an intriguing picture of Victorian England and the goings on of the time.  The characters are fascinating and the ending will surprise you.  Go and read it.  Enjoy 😉

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