Mayhem! Murder! Salacious stories that rip right through morality, leaving the reader gasping in horror at the mad depravity of these criminals! Rick Geary has penned some of the most shocking stories of vicious killers from the Victorian era. Some of his best work is collected into this volume that promises the sensationalism of the era’s journalists plus a modern cold retelling of the facts. The book starts with three shorter stories that are semi-straightforward, though still wrapped in mystery. These build up to the most famous of serial killers, Jack the Ripper. Told with little speculation as to the identity of Saucy Jack, Geary lays out the crimes from the perspective of a contemporary who provides clinical descriptions of some of the gruesome aspects of the murders. This is followed by a curious look at the assassination of President James Garfield, including a fairly detailed depiction of the history and similarities between the president and his assailant. After the gritty slums of London, the interlude of politics and American history might have felt a bit slow. However, it gives the reader a bit of a refreshing breather before delving into the growing madness of Charles Guiteau, with his delusions of grandeur and “divinely inspired” political dreams. The book concludes with the most horrifying of all the criminals, the notorious H.H. Holmes and his speculated 100 murders in the late 19th century.
Geary’s very dry wit and expert pacing hit just the right note on this journey into the macabre. A bit of history about the Victorian Era begins the work, setting the stage for the conservative cloak of respectability characteristic of the times. Victorians’ high-minded attitudes hid the degeneracy of most of the murderers, making the facts all the more shocking. That contrast weaves through each of the tales, offering some background and an explanation of how the crimes could be committed. Like many true crime tales, the fact that these are actual deaths lends its own chill alongside Geary’s well-researched and gritty prose.
For any other topic, I imagine I would find Geary’s drawings, with their often mashed faces and sometimes dead eyes, a bit grotesque, but they fit these creepy tales well. You can see Geary’s style change a bit, probably because these were not all drawn at the same time. His attention to detail is very impressive, giving wood grain to the floors and textures to clothes. I really enjoyed his use of shadows for dramatic effect, especially when his panels are set from afar. Still, some of the more stylized images might be distracting to someone more interested in the history.
Not for a first time traveler into the world of serial killers, nor for the expert reader, this volume holds the most promise for dabblers who have a taste for the ghoulish and are looking to be shocked by the strange and grisly world of Victorian murders.
A Treasury of Victorian Murder Compendium
by Rick Geary
NBM Comics Ltd, 2012