Monday 5 June 2023

Book Review: Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal by Ron Horniman (Classics/Crime)

Title: Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal
Author: Roy Horniman
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
Publication Date: 1907
Pages: 462
Format: eBook - PDF
Genre: Classics/Crime
Source: HathiTrust Digital Library

'There is an old saying, 'Murder will out.' I am really unable to see why this should be so...'

Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal (1907) inspired the classic Ealing film Kind Hearts and Coronets. But though both works are comedies about a serial murderer, they are different creatures. The eponymous narrator of Roy Horniman's novel, son of a Jewish commercial traveller, offers his memoirs from the condemned cell , having murdered six people who stood between him and an earldom he hoped to inherit. Through Israel's story Horniman explores and parodies the anti-Semitic attitudes of Edwardian England.


I came to this book after having first become familiar with the story through the film (Kind Hearts and Coronets) and the musical (A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder). As such, I knew the basic plot ahead of time, but that didn't stop my enjoyment of this book, as the prose style was fun and kept me wanting to read throughout, even though I already knew the outcome. Israel is an engaging narrator who really gets the reader on his side despite all his actions, and, as the blurb mentions, it is also a commentary on Edwardian anti-Semitic attitudes. This book is hard to come by these days, but I was luckily able to find a copy to read online via HathiTrust. It is because I could only read a few pages at a time on the PC that it took me so long to get through this book; otherwise I would have devoured it in just a few days. It gets 4.5 stars from me.

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