On 9 July 1864 two bank clerks enter a first class train compartment only to discover that it is covered in blood, with no sign of an injured person or body although they do find a walking stick, an empty leather bag and a hat.
Shortly afterwards Thomas Briggs, a senior bank clerk, is found, fatally injured a short way back along the railway line. When Briggs dies without regaining consciousness shortly, a murder investigation commences.
The investigation is headed by Richard Tanner of the still relatively new Scotland Yard Detective Division of the Metropolitan Police.
Faced with a murder without witnesses and few clues, Tanner is conducting a very difficult investigation that only appears to break when a tip seems to point at a good suspect. Soon Tanner finds himself chasing Franz Muller, the young German tailor who appears to be at the centre of the horrific attack, across the Atlantic in an effort to bring him to justice in a case that will be decided by the ownership of two hats.
This was a fascinating read. The murder and its setting, a closed off train compartment, are truly mysterious. The only evidence available being very circumstantial leads to the answers suggested being highly ambiguous. It is hard to read this book without being both horrified at and fascinated by the standards of crime investigation at the time and the way the justice system worked in those days.
But it is not just the crime that makes this book so interesting. The author paints a great picture of England at the height of the industrial revolution, the ambivalent feelings this rapid progress awakened in people and the ins and outs of daily life in London.
I enjoyed comparing investigative methods, court proceedings and journalistic standards of the time with those we are used to today and can only be glad of the progress we have made in the 150 years since this case hit the headlines.
I feel that this well written and thoroughly researched book would be a great read for anyone with an interest in true crime, history, and/or social studies.