Rated: 5 stars
This brilliantly crafted non-fiction look at the British obsession with murder is not only fascinating in its own right but also perfect if you’re a crime writer who fancies learning some of the history of your genre, providing as it does an excellent feel for the public perception of crime and crime writing from the Ratcliffe Highway Murders (back in 1811) all the way up to the present day.
Dr Lucy Worsley is Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, the charity which looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, and other historic places and her writing style is fluent and engaging. The book is stuffed full of facts and intrigue but it is never stuffy or over analytical – nothing of the dry academic about it at all. If I had to pick my favourite parts of the book I would say the starting section about the Ratcliffe Highway Murders and the part which discussed the Detection Club started by Dorothy L Sayers and Agatha Christie during the Golden Age of crime fiction.
Being a writer of Sherlock Holmes pastiche (both Victorian era and modern day) and currently trying my hand at an original crime novel I found this book utterly compelling and it generated a huge number of plot bunnies that are currently clamouring to be fed words and, like rabbits of all descriptions, seem to be multiplying no matter what I do. So if you turn your pen to crime fiction of any sort and need some inspiration this book is definitely worth getting hold of.
I should also add that this book was created as a companion to a BBC Four series of the same name but I didn’t know that until I’d finished reading and the fact that I’d not watched it in no way impaired my enjoyment. That said, I should imagine that if you can get hold of the series it would be fascinating to actually see the places and artefacts that Lucy describes.
This review has been included in the Improbable Press e-newsletter. Improbable Press, whose books add romance to the adventure, set in a world where Sherlock Holmes and John Watson’s relationship steps beyond friendship, is a for-profit press with its home base in London—”that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained”*. My short story “Tales from the River Bank”, was published in their anthology “A Murmuring of Bees”.
*From A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle