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A Very British Murder [Paperback]

Lucy Worsley
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
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Book Description

8 May 2014

This is the story of a national obsession.

Ever since the Ratcliffe Highway Murders caused a nation-wide panic in Regency England, the British have taken an almost ghoulish pleasure in 'a good murder'. This fascination helped create a whole new world of entertainment, inspiring novels, plays and films, puppet shows, paintings and true-crime journalism - as well as an army of fictional detectives who still enthrall us today. A Very British Murder is Lucy Worsley's captivating account of this curious national obsession. It is a tale of dark deeds and guilty pleasures, a riveting investigation into the British soul by one of our finest historians.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: BBC Books (8 May 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1849906513
  • ISBN-13: 978-1849906517
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 9,110 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dr Lucy Worsley is Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, the charity which looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, the Banqueting House in Whitehall and Kew Palace in Kew Gardens. (Yes, this is a fabulous job, but no, you can't have it. Bribes have been offered, and refused.)

Her first paid employment after studying history at Oxford was at a minor stately home called Milton Manor, near Abingdon, where she fed the llamas. After that she became an Inspector of Ancient Monuments at English Heritage, doing historical research at Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire: this led to her first book, 'Cavalier', about a dissolute Royalist duke. Her work as a curator at Kensington Palace led to 'Courtiers', and taking part in a BBC TV series on the history of houses resulted in her most recent book, 'If Walls Could Talk, An Intimate History of the Home'.

Do please visit www.lucyworsley.com for lots more information, and for Lucy's blog.

Product Description


"An excellent overview of how the consumption of crime became a dominant part of our cultural landscape" (The Sunday Times)

"Worsley captures this bloody love affair very well" (The Independent)

"Worsley retells the stories of famous murderers and legendary criminals in delightfully readable language, with the occasional sharp, illuminating comment" (Literary Review)

Book Description

From Jack the Ripper to the cosy crimes of the Golden Age, renowned historian Lucy Worsley explores the evolution of the typical British murder.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Very British Murder 16 Sep 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book has been written to accompany a television series of the same name and does, as a consequence jump around a little in subject matter. The book begins and ends with discussion of an essay - the first being, "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts" by Thomas De Quincey and finishes with an appraisal of "The Decline of the English Murder" by George Orwell. This is not really about crime, as such, although many crimes are discussed - it is about how, especially since the nineteenth century, the British began to "enjoy and consume the idea of a murder."

De Quincey's essay uses the 1811 Ratcliffe Highway Murders as it's theme. Lucy Worsley takes us through the way crime was dealt with and the importance of the Ratcliffe Murders as a faceless, urban murder, which caused shockwaves throughout the country. In this book she looks at how murder became entertainment; involving sensational journalism, the theatre, tourism and detective fiction. The founding of an organised police force is discussed, the use of detectives, notorious crimes, 'Penny Bloods' (the forerunner of crime fiction) and forensic science. She also looks at crime fiction, from Dickens, to Sherlock Holmes and through the Golden Age of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers.

It is fair to say that this work does have some limitations; it is a little unfocused and tends to rely on the notorious and shocking, in a way which will probably have more impact on the screen than on the page. However, if you have an interest in true crime or crime fiction, then you will surely enjoy this. Lucy Worsley is an excellent writer and her enthusiasm for history and personal charm is enough to make this a worthwhile, fascinating and, keeping with her theme of an enjoyment in murder, an entertaining read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for lovers of crime and history! 2 Jan 2014
This is a great read for anyone like me who loves crimes, history and books as Lucy Worsley traces the history of our interest in murder over the last two hundred years. Prior to that she states that everyone was far more concerned with the everyday battles to feed and clothe themselves but with the rise in literacy levels amongst the population murder became a source of entertainment.

In researching the national obsession with murder the author gives some interesting facts and figures, who would have thought two and a half million people bought the `authentic' memoirs of murderess Maria Manning in 1849? Charles Dickens went on to fictionalise Maria in his novel Bleak House where she appeared as the murderous maid Hortense after he was part of a crowd of an estimated thirty thousand spectators to her hanging.

This book which starts by covering real murders which were written up into broadsheets to be sold by peddlers at fairs and executions, to covering those crimes used to inspire fiction and then, following the introduction of the first detectives their fictional counterparts began to flourish. The author explains the introduction of forensics in bringing the criminals to justice in a straightforward way although Silent Witnesses is essential reading to understand the history behind forensics. Maybe because it was originally written TV series the narrative does jump backwards and forwards a little at times but I still found it easy to follow the point the author was attempting to make in each of the twenty-four chapters.

The book looks at the lives of the authors who were part of the `Golden Age' of crime fiction including Dorothy L.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Feels a little light 7 Oct 2013
By Gareth Wilson - Falcata Times Blog TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Kindle Edition
To be honest this was a book I ordered as I've always been fascinated with the British love of a murder story. Whilst I'm not saying that it's a good thing, throughout our history, since Jack the Ripper, we've always been fascinated to read about the real macabre events in real life trying to find out who has the not only the latest news but also to see what details have been revealed within.

This title by Lucy, whilst Ok, feels a little short changes as she keeps referring to a title by Judith Flanders called The Invention of Murder. For me, if you're going to keep doing that, perhaps you'd be better off not writing a book but point people towards that title to start off with.

Add to this a book that really isn't that linear and has the reader jumping forward and backwards in time as well as focusing on perhaps the most well known murders (or rather the ones with the most details available) which all round leave the reader feeling a little cheated with nothing really startling revealed. All round I was a little disappointed with the title and whilst it was there to accompany the TV show of the same name it's one that I feel that would be better borrorwed from a library rather than purchased with your hard earned cash.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 13 Jun 2014
By B Daly
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A brilliant read, if you have any interest in the subject I would highly recommend, the language is lively and flows easily from page to page, highly enjoyable
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Book For Crime Fans 25 May 2014
Face it, we find murder fascinating. Even in the age of the internet and 'instant news', we love to lap up every little detail. This book, which accompanies the enjoyable tv series, looks at WHY we are so interested in even the most gruesome of murders. We find out about the rise of the detective, both real and fictional, and how Victorian broadsheets, mass produced and sold cheaply, gave rise to the crime novels of today Famous true crime cases are mentioned, such as the Ratcliffe Highway murders, the Red Barn case, and of course, the infamous Crippen.

We also find out about the lively trade in 'souveniers', such as models of the Red Barn, pieces of the barn itself and even stone chips from the victim's headstone! We find out about the puppet shows, melodramas and ballads which were popular too.

Our appetite for crime hasn't faded - crime novels, tv dramas, films, and even board games continue to attract huge numbers of fans. in fact, the third best-selling author (after the Bible and Shakespeare) is Agatha Christie!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
thank you
Published 1 day ago by rosie2
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very British Murder
Lucy Worsley never disappoints - her books are informative but written with humour as well as facts and always a pleasure to read.
Published 1 month ago by Lib
4.0 out of 5 stars A grand companion volume to "The Invention of Murder"
As Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces, Dr Worsley is probably best known for her works on the monarchy and the development of the British home, but her interest in murder as a... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Ye Olde Ed
4.0 out of 5 stars The re-Invention of Murder
OK, accept the fact that this book has great overlaps with a book called The Invention of Murder. So what, just about every detective story is a rehash of another and just about... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Plucked Highbrow
4.0 out of 5 stars From melodrama to noir...
Lucy Worsley has set out to trace the roots of the British obsession with murder - as consumers, rather than participants. Read more
Published 3 months ago by FictionFan
3.0 out of 5 stars Heavily based on Flanders
This is an entertaining and readable treatment of a fascinating subject, but it is - as other reviewers have pointed out - very derivative of Judith Flanders' superior but more... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Truthful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy read but very informative
I love Lucy Worsley's style anyway so this was a pleasure to read. Well researched but not at all dry. very entertaining and informative. Kindle version is fab.
Published 4 months ago by Fiona
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and accessible.
I’ve been dipping in and out of this one as I like to do with Non Fiction and as a reader interested in true crime and indeed crime fiction this was a great little read. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Liz Wilkins
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Xmas present
This was bought as a Christmas present and I know is being enjoyed. It is a book I will likely obtain myself
Published 6 months ago by alan dennis berridge
5.0 out of 5 stars Typical British Crime Novel
Just right for my mother-in-law who is 93 years old. Simple plot with a good story line. She read it in one session
Published 7 months ago by Steve
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