The stories and the people involved in the history of murder are stranger, darker and more compulsive than any crime fiction. There’s Richard Parker, the cannibalized cabin boy whose death at the hands of his hungry crewmates led the Victorian courts to decisively outlaw a defence of necessity to murder. Dr Percy Bateman, the incompetent GP whose violent disregard for his patient changed the law on manslaughter. Ruth Ellis, the last woman hanged in England in the 1950s, played a crucial role in changes to the law around provocation in murder cases. And Archibald Kinloch, the deranged Scottish aristocrat whose fratricidal frenzy paved the way for the defence of diminished responsibility. These, and many more, are the people – victims, killers, lawyers and judges, who unwittingly shaped the history of that most grisly and storied of laws.
Join lawyer and writer Kate Morgan on a dark and macabre journey as she explores the strange stories and mysterious cases that have contributed to UK murder law. The big corporate killers; the vengeful spouses; the sloppy doctors; the abused partners; the shoddy employers; each story a crime and each crime a precedent that has contributed to the law’s dark, murky and, at times, shocking standing.
I’d always assumed that there was a dichotomy between murder and manslaughter. Murder is a deliberate act, while manslaughter is, well, not deliberate, right?
No. Homicide isn’t as black and white as most true crime aficionados and armchair lawyers seem to think it is. In Murder: The Biography, writer and lawyer Kate Morgan takes her readers on a fascinating journey through time. With Morgan as our guide, we travel from an era where a killer could simply pay their victim’s families whatever price the victim’s life was deemed to be worth right up until the 20th and 21st centuries, where entire new sub-categories of homicide were introduced to reflect the complexities of such acts.
The entire book is a fascinating read, but my favourite sections were those in which Morgan discusses the cases that brought about sub-categories such as manslaughter by gross negligence. The case that saw manslaughter by gross negligence being introduced into UK law is beyond horrifying. I honestly couldn’t get it out of my head for days, so much so that when I called my grandparents for a catch up, one of the first things that I said to my grandad was something along the lines of, “So, do you know how manslaughter by gross negligence came about? Do you? No? Well, let me enlighten you…” As I try to make my reviews as spoiler free as possible, I won’t say anything about that particular chapter of the book other than this: make sure you read it on an empty stomach.
Another thing that I really liked about Murder: The Biography is the fact that Kate Morgan is respectful. True crime stories fascinate me, but there have been times when I’ve stopped listening to a particular podcast or switched off a documentary because of how sensationalist they’ve been. I’ve often found that creators of such content forget the victims of the crimes that they’re discussing, but this isn’t the case with Kate Morgan. She never loses sight of the lives lost and this honestly makes for a refreshing change.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Murder: The Biography and highly recommend it to anyone interested in both legal history and true crime.