The legendary tale of Frankenstein is not Victorian, nor is it strictly crime fiction, yet there is gruesome murder at the very heart of the novel.
When Victor Frankenstein’s young brother, William, is killed, there are clues as to who might have been responsible for this heinous crime. Initially the prime suspect is Justine Moritz, family friend. Her movements on the night of the murder were unaccounted for and she is found to have stolen a picture of the late Mrs Frankenstein that had belonged to William. Although the evidence is compelling, Victor fears that the real murderer is the hideous creature that he brought to life himself.
At the trial, in the face of compelling evidence, including a witness that placed Justine close to the scene of the crime, she is convicted of the child’s murder and sentenced to death. Victor feels responsible for two murders: ‘I, not in deed but in effect, was the true murderer.’
When Victor encounters his creature in the lonely peaks of Mont Blanc, he is finally forced to face his fears. Mary Shelley draws a psychological profile of the possible assassin: he is isolated and alone, craving companionship and the approbation of his creator: ‘Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good;misery made me a fiend’. If these human needs aren’t met, then he will continue to commit bloody crimes.
Although Frankenstein is usually considered to be a Gothic horror story, at heart it could easily be early crime fiction: there is a murder, a perpetrator and even a trial. Any investigation is skimmed over, but then the action takes place almost half a century before the emergence of real detectives. However, whatever its true genre, Mary Shelley’s timeless tale of life and death is the perfect spooky read for Halloween.