Angela Buckley is well-known among family historians as the Chair of the Society of Genealogists and for her work on true crime. Her first book, The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada (Pen & Sword, 2014) explored crime and criminals through the life of a 19th century Italian-Mancunian detective.
This latest title is the first in Buckley’s historical true crime series, Victorian Supersleuth Investigates. Focusing on the crime (or in this case, crimes), Buckley carefully pieces together the facts using contemporary reports supported by her research into socio-historical sources.
Buckley was inspired to explore the crimes of Amelia Dyer when she discovered she lived close to the Reading location where the baby farmer’s victims were found in the River Thames. The true number of Dyer’s victims will never be known, but the book names all those identified through Dyer’s trial, the police investigation, and the rather sensational newspaper reporting of the time. As such, this is a valuable resource for family and social historians. There are details, too, of those who found the victims, along with other witnesses and neighbours.
One of the mysteries of this case for a modern reader is why did anyone hand over their infants to the murderous Dyer? Buckley provides the background to this, explaining the myriad difficulties in the late Victorian period for women who were unmarried or unable to care for their own children. In my view, the socio-historical detail is one of the book’s greatest strengths.
Another strength is the lucid writing. Not only is the book easy to read, but the complexities of these crimes and the motivations of the rather puzzling Dyer are explained clearly. Although the subject matter is harrowing, criminal details are balanced against fascinating passages of social history. Despite being full of dates, names and times. the book is short and well-paced. As such it is suitable for anyone wanting to read a book on holiday or during a daily commute. It certainly transports the reader to another world.