Written to accompany a BBC TV series this book 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, however 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. That’s right thirty thousand people went to see an execution and needed five hundred policemen to keep them in check!
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 Nigel McCrery’s Silent Witnesses is essential reading to understand the history behind this subject. 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. Sayers and Agatha Christie as well as the part they played in the rapid growth in popular crime fiction and finishes with the decline of the genteel murderer to the more thriller based popular fiction that we still enjoy today.
As a look at the changing nature of the types of books the nation read as well as illustrating some of the true-life crimes of the period this is an excellent read.
The author draws heavily on the work of Judith Flanders from her book An Invention of Murder which I am now going to have to buy for a more in depth look at the crimes which provided the nation with entertainment during the Victorian period.
One of the early detectives featured is Mr Whicher the man who inspired the fantastic read The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale which I read before I started reviewing but still sits on my bookshelf!
To find see my review of Silent Witnesses by Nigel McCrery click on the book cover