Finally! This book has waited too long. First it languished on my TBR list for...3+ years and then when I at last sit down to read it, it took forever. In my defense, I think I read this at exactly the right time. I knew many of the cases by name (from The Art of the English Murder and others) and I'd read other books dealing with the history of forensics. So I knew there were going to be some difficult parts.
You could tell Wagner taught these subjects. There is a clear sense of time spent with the information and that she knows how to get to the necessary parts quickly but in a way the reader can understand. My biggest complaint is that Holmes seemed to fall by the wayside. Oh, there were mentions of him throughout each chapter but I feel like the information overwhelmed his presence. I think, personally, that was from the author's great presentation but still, I picked this up for Holmes. She did show how some of the cases might have influenced (and I think, given the corresponding elements, did) Doyle and the stories. The Kent murder mirrors The Sussex Vampire story quite a bit.
The chapter though, were grueling. Wagner describes a Victorian morgue in such detail, I swear I could smell it. I felt like it was a test from the author. If you made it through that segment, you could handle the rest. Switching to superstitious myths of black dogs almost gave me mental whiplash.
With a glossary in the back and an extensive bibliography, this is the type of non-fiction book I look for. The author doesn't pull in punches or consider the reader stupid, but writes so that a layman can understand.
If you have an interest in forensic science, the history of crime and famous cases, or just want to learn where Holmes stood in his time period, this is a great book. Just be warned if you have a weak stomach; there are some segments in here that are a bit more than you may be bargaining for.
Reading Updates (contains lots of notes and links to famous cases):