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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 1 July 2004
this book is about more than the murder of innocent is also very much a social history of times, people and places. The authors tell the tale of the murders well, intertwined with what life was like for the poor in 1811, how they lived, what they ate, how they socially mixed with one another. The absence of a police force shows how vital clues were not followed through, silly, stupid mistakes were common, and information was certainly not to be shared. excellent read, one that deserves some thinking time after each chapter to appreciate its content.
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on 11 March 2010
This book is a vivid and detailed description of a number of brutal murders in the East End of London. In addition, piecing together the efforts of the police to identify and apprehend those responsible. The totally inadequate policing structure prior to these murders forces the Government to change the police structure, taking steps which led to the police as we know it today.
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on 28 July 2011
I did not know what to expect when I bought this book. I thought it might just be full of gore given the nature of the crimes but I was wrong. True there is an element of brutality present, that is to be expected but the quality of this book is in the writing, mainly the way the cases are presented interwoven with the state of policing 2 centuries ago. The way this book is structured is pure mastery. At times it reads as a contemporary thriller-murder mystery and at other times it is a research paper which is very digestable.
I was left with the extreme gratitude that I did not live in England 200 years ago as things were rather chancy back then to say the least, I loved the morality put forward as to the how the victoms were judged by the public ,crime by crime. I would recommend this book for those who want to place themselves in the past and enjoy the thrill of a dark and cold London anno 1811.
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on 7 April 2011
I came across this book as a result of reading the much more recent "The Invention of Murder" by Judith Flanders.

This is an old book,originally published some decades ago, but noetheless readable or interesting for that. As a friend of mind said (after reading it on my recommendation) "the combination of a criminologist and a fiction writer works really well".

PD James is, of course, well known as a long-standing and eminent writer of detective fiction.

The case involves two sets of very bloody murders in a very short period of time and close proximity. The search for the murderer, the suspect's fate and the possible alternative candidate as killer provide the narrative backbone of the book.

So far as this "true-crime" valume is concerned, the period, the location and the characters (and what an incredible crowd they are) come alive. The tragedy of these awful crimes - and they were tragic on several levels - is well brought out. The only oddity (for me - and the reason this has been given 4 rather than 5 stars) is that the authors' solution seems very brief and almost "tacked on". I would like to have seen this explanation gone into in a little more depth. But that does not detract from the book as a whole.

For those who have not already discovered this book, I recommend it, whether you like a mystery, are into the social history of London or the Georgian period, or just want to enjoy a darned good read
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 May 2011
This must have been one of PD James first excursions into detective writing having originally been written in 1971. She and her co-writer try to reconstruct and analyze the evidence from a couple of savage multiple murders that happened in 1811 in London's East End within one month of each other. The book starts with an atmospheric and lively description of life in the area and then proceeds into a very detailed account of the amateurish attempts by local magistrates to solve the crime. By today's standards the lack of detective expertise is shocking, but with no police force trained to gather evidence it's not surprising. The narrative is realistic in that the stalled investigation meant that the powers that be were going round in circles trying to find clues and culprits, but I found myself getting a little bored after 200 or so pages as the story meandered in detail. The ending of the book is concerned with the author's attempts to solve the crime but with little success.

The strength of the book is as an historical record of how primitive were the processes of detecting crime and the paucity of protection for people accused of a crime.
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I'd heard of the Ratcliffe Highway Murders through an episode of Whitechapel, but I didn't really know very much about them. This book charts the murders, the ramshackle police and magistrate investigation, and the effect such horrific murders had on the public psyche. The authors also have doubts that the man finally apprehended was guilty at all, or if he was, he certainly didn't act alone.

I found this book disappointing, all the more so if you consider it's written by such a famous crime writer. It was almost tedious in places, certainly not a page-turner. I also felt there were too many lengthy quotations from newspaper and magistrate reports, some several pages long. I didn't feel they lent anything to the book, but perhaps the authors felt there wasn't enough content otherwise.

It has been re-released recently, presumably to cash in on the vogue for Victorian crime since the success of 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher', although this is long before the Victorian era obviously, but it very much feels like something written almost forty years ago.
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on 18 June 2016
Intelligent, detailed, poignant and thoroughly engrossing.
Reads like the best fiction but is, in fact wholly factual.
London is a rare city indeed to have 2 such landmark crime cases: the Ratcliffe Highway murders and the Ripper murders.
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Why are murders committed in the East End of London in 1811 still of interest over 200 years later? Well the brutal murders of two entire households are in part, at least, responsible for the birth of the Police Service that we have today.

One December night in 1811 an intruder entered the Marrs Draper store and murdered all the occupants including Timothy Marr the owner’s baby son. The only member of the household to survive was the servant Margaret Jewell who had been running an errand for oysters at just before midnight. Ratcliffe Highway was in the East End which led to the intersection between two other main roads. The area was watched by the night watchmen but he missed the entry of the intruder and help was only called when Margaret, having returned empty-handed, was locked out of her home.

This murder alone caused enough consternation between the locals, particularly as anyone with stained or torn clothes were arrested and seemingly just as quickly released by the complicated separate three police forces that had responsibility for the area. When another household were slain action and more importantly reform was called for.

The authors wrote this book in 1971 when interestingly T.A. Critchley, a Police Historian, name preceded that of the now much loved writer P.D. James. This book isn’t of the ilk of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, the writing coming across as much more scholarly in the more traditional format of the known facts being presented with the alternative solution to the murderer being presented in the latter part of the book. Despite extensive research it appears that not a lot of the facts survive although there are plenty of contemporary accounts as the murders fed the imagination of the population well outside the East End of London. In addition there were no detectives and those charged with enforcing the police were by all accounts open to bribes or pressure from those far more powerful than them. In order to proceed to the conclusion the reader needs to wade through quite a dense prose which isn’t written with the lightest of touches. There was a feeling that some points were overly emphasised in order to persuade the reader of their truth and to be honest I don’t believe there are enough facts to accurately surmise what happened that night.

What makes this book worthwhile is the social history that accompanies the dreadful facts. The authors do a fantastic job of describing this area of Wapping with its shipyards and shadowy streets where the shops and public houses opened well into the night. The boarding houses that were temporary homes for the sailors when they were on shore and the petty rivalries and jealousies that breed in such situations. The women who when making statements were perhaps carrying out their husband’s bidding were carrying out their pre-ordained roles, the fact that those who should have been depended upon in such an event were perhaps sleeping (or worse) while earning their pittance of a wage all played a part on those December nights.

So what did I make of the author’s conclusion? It seemed plausible based on the little known facts and I concur that the murderer probably wasn’t the man who was blamed for the crimes. But of course the lasting legacy was the recognition that England needed something a bit more substantial and accountable than those currently policing the country.

I’m glad I know more about this oft referenced crime, I now understand why it is still mentioned so frequently and as a bonus I finally have an idea where The Ratcliffe Highway is, why the maul was important, and what a maul is!!
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This is an excellent piece of social history combined with a true crime story. In 1811 two murders were committed in the dock area of London which are known as the Ratcliffe Highway murders. Although someone was convicted of them it has never been clear who the murderer was. This book explains the social conditions of the time by exploring the background of those who are murdered and following the investigations into the crime.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I like a good book of social history and this crime was a good way to enlighten me about various things happening in London at the time. The authors firstly look at the docks were, how people lived, and what general conditions were like as shown by the victims, witnesses and suspects. They then move on to policing at the time - in fact, the total lack of it and the various people that had a responsibility to undertake this work and what their limitations were (both personal and professional). The book then examines the crime and its evidence and looks at all the people suspected of committing the murder and their background. The climax (in a gruesome way) is the arrest of the chief suspect and what happens to him in custody and at the hands of the public.

By using the crime as its focus this book can examine in quite a short narrative a lot of things and it does this in an entertaining and informative way. This is very much a book of social history rather than a true crime book and although it doesn't pretend to be an academic book it leans more in that direction than it does towards the sensational. It makes no particular judgement about the perpetrator of the crime but points out lots of possible alternatives. I found it very readable and full of interesting snippets of information about how people lived and worked - I also got to find out what a maul is !
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on 8 September 2016
I found the book slightly disjointed, it seemed to veer away from the main theme at times. I did find the references to the "Policing" and the various bodies who had some effect on the crime situation and the fact that there was almost no interaction between them interesting. But I now a least know what a 'maul' is!!
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