Tuesday, 3 December 2013

A Very British Murder

A Very British Murder by Lucy Worsley
Published by BBC Books
12th September 2013
Hardback edition

A dark, shameful deed, the last resort of the desperate or a vile tool of the greedy.  And yet, an endlessly fascinating storyline in popular entertainment.  When did the British start taking such a ghoulish pleasure in violent death?  And what does this tell us about ourselves?

In A Very British Murder, Lucy Worsley explores this phenomenon in forensic detail.  She revisits notorious crimes like the Ratcliffe Highway Murders, which caused a nation-wide panic in Regency England, and characters such as the murderess in black satin, Maria Manning, who helped bury her lover under the kitchen floor.  Our fascination with these dark deeds would create a whole new world of entertainment, inspiring journalism and novels, plays and puppet shows and an army of beloved fictional detectives, from Sherlock Holmes to Miss Marple.  During the birth of modern Britain, murder somehow slipped into our national psyche – and provided us with some of our most enduring and enjoyable pastimes.

‘It is Sunday afternoon, preferably before the war…You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose, and open The News of the World.  A cup of mahogany-brown tea has put you just in the right mood.  The sofa cushions are soft, the fire is well alight, the air is warm and stagnant.  In these blissful circumstances, what is it you want to read about?  Naturally, about a murder.’
George Orwell, ‘Decline of the English Murder’ (1946)

As a huge crime novel fan, I just had to get my hands on a copy of Lucy Worsley’s A Very British Murder and very glad I am to have read it too.  I love a good murder, be it on the radio, television or in book form.  But I would never dream of committing one; I hate blood and violence of any kind - so, as Worsley herself asks, why the fascination?

In Part IHow to Enjoy a murder, Lucy Worsley goes as far back as the 1800s, where she investigates a handful of murders that happened across England, and of the popularity of these in the press, through song and on stage.  She also tells of a certain French woman, Marie Tussaud who came to England after the French Revolution and began making waxworks of the famous, which also included those of notorious killers in her Chamber of Horrors. 

Part II – Enter the Detective - here Worsley focuses on the growing role of the detective.  The murder at Road Hill House, written about and dramatised as The Suspicions of Mr Whitcher is one of the cases she examines, as well as those of the infamous Jack the Ripper.  She also looks at the growth of sensationalism fiction, through the works of writers such as Wilkie Collins.

In Part III – The Golden Age, she now turns to the big screen with the works of Alfred Hitchcock and of the growth of the armchair detective through a growing generation of female crime writers of detective fiction, including the works of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh.

I only have one small criticism of the book and that is that in the chapter on the disappearance on Agatha Christie, it claims that she had two children with her first husband Archie.  As a big Christie fan, I’m pretty sure she only had one child, Rosalind, but this doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the book.  This is an easy read, full of facts and details and some fantastic photographs too.  I’ve added a few new writers to my collection of crime fiction as a result!

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x


  1. Oh, I have just been asked for some pressie ideas, I might suggest this!! Not sure if saying that I love a good murder is the right thing - you know what I mean!!!!! xx

  2. Yes, I have to admit, I love a good murder. Especially if it involves forensic science.
    If I could have my time over again I would probably choose to be a Pathologist.


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