A Very British Murder Hardcover – 12 Sep 2013
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"Worsley's book covers a great deal of ground...it provides 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)
From Jack the Ripper to the cosy crimes of the Golden Age, renowned historian Lucy Worsley explores the evolution of the typical British murder, to accompany a new BBC series.See all Product description
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For all that, there is plenty to get your teeth into here, particularly in the earlier chapters (although as a fan of dark Victorian goings on, I may be a little biased). The later chapters focus a little too heavily on crime fiction for my tastes - I much preferred the sections of the book which dealt with crimes themselves, and the public appetite for them. These read like lively social history, thoroughly fascinating.
Worsley's enthusiasm for her subject is infectious, and she is an engaging author. However, this book is not one of her best, nor one of the best on this topic.
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.
There was a TV programme presented by the author and the flow of the book rather demonstrates this. Worsley is a magic lantern natural and comparing the two media places the book as the weaker; however this comparison is a bit like saying that it's all very well to read serial killer novels but you can't beat the real thing.
All in all there's a good read to be had from this effort. A profitable extension arises in that this piece may steer you towards some of the proto authors of the genre which will provide an interesting comparison with the plethora of "airport pulp" so-called "thrillers" with which travellers are now bombarded. You might be converted to packing a Wilkie Collins or somesuch.
There are several other works that cover the rise of "crime" fiction and its historical nurturing ground. You may be wafted towards these too after reading Worsley's. It's all quite gruesomely addictive.............
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