Friday, November 02, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #306: A Treasury of Victorian Murder, Vol. 1 by Rick Geary

Physically, this isn't much like the long sequence of "Treasury of Victorian Murder" and "Treasury of XXth Century Murder" books that Geary has been producing in the three decades since it came out: it's in a tall and wide paperback album format rather than a small hardcover, and it has three comics stories about century-old murders, plus some ancillary materials, instead of focusing solely on one murder in its time and place.

There's also a lot of notable early-Geary tone to the captions in A Treasury of Victorian Murder, Vol. 1, that bemused, faux-shocked voice with tongue slightly in cheek that he used so much for his early short comics. That went away over time, to be replaced with a quieter, more matter-of-fact presentation of facts and details. But the Geary of 1987 would still exclaim "This did not seem to be a common burglary!" or "Nor murder weapon could be found -- but what of this empty razor case?"

But this is the beginning of the road to all of those later projects, and we all know that a road doesn't start the same place it ends. How could it?

Geary opens with a gatefold of London a hundred years before, and follows that up with several pages of portraits of eminent Victorians in many fields -- more of the single pages full of small square related panels that were so common in his early career. And there's a similar coda at the end, with a two-page splash of a Victorian cemetery. But in between are those three murder tales -- "The Ryan Mystery," a brother and sister slashed by unknown assailants in 1873 New York; "The Crimes of Dr. E.W. Pritchard," who poisoned his wife and mother-in-law in 1864 Glasgow and earlier set a fire that killed his housemaid mistress; and "The Abominable Mrs. Pearcey," who chopped up the wife of a man she wanted in 1890 Hampshire.

Even as early as this, Geary was mostly straightforward about the grisly details and had a particular gift for depicting 19th century fashions in clothing and facial hair. These are deeply Gearyesque stories, bridging the gap between the early oddball work and the later murder series. That makes this a particularly interesting Geary book for those people, like me, who can't get enough of his work.

I hope you're one, too. If not, the best place to start would be one of those individual books about a historical murder. Pick one that intrigues you -- perhaps the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, or Lizzie Borden's axe murders, or the Black Dahlia case, or H.H. Holmes's murder house in Chicago.

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