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The Maul And The Pear Tree

3.52  ·  Rating Details ·  560 Ratings  ·  63 Reviews
In 1811 John Williams was buried with a stake through his heart. Was he the notorious East End killer or the eighth victim in the bizarre and shocking Ratcliffe Highway murders? Drawing on contemporary records and newspaper cuttings, for example, the authors make a reconstruction of events.
Published by Faber & Faber (first published 1971)
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Mar 30, 2009 scarlettraces rated it it was amazing
it's about the ratcliffe highway murders of 1811, which form part of the moore/sinclair/ackroyd london mythos and which i knew very little about. it's pretty much a model for this sort of thing - a narrative of events combined with a precise evocation of the social and physical context (there's a lot of lovely description of the wapping docks area in a bleak december at the beginning of the 19th century, presumably contributed by James) with some modern commentary about the evidence and the hand ...more
Lee Battersby
Feb 03, 2014 Lee Battersby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely stunning treatise on a pair of murders that are at the heart of the creation of the British policing system as it is today, and which remain an historical mystery of the highest water. Co-authors James and Critchley draw on a multitude of contemporary sources to follow both the social and policing trails through Wapping and surrounding areas, and the picture painted in vibrant, well-rounded and utterly believable. gaps in the historical record are clearly identified, judgements drawn ...more
Nov 19, 2015 Anwen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this a surprising little book. First of all, a disclaimer. I do not like P.D. James's crime novels. Imagine my surprise when I found her name amongst factual books on London. This was the main reason I picked this book up - after all, the title conveyed nothing to me (other than the thought the book had been miscatalogued). Then the subtitle caught my eye - Ratcliffe Highway Murders. I have been fascinated by these murders since the first time I read about them. So I bought the book - an ...more
Oct 22, 2016 Chris rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: James fans
It took three tries over five years to actually finish this book. And I like P.D. James. It is interesting, a bit, eventually, but the tone is rather dull. What is mostly intersting is the look at English Anti-Irish feeling at the time.
Dec 01, 2011 Tria rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent and intensively-researched casefile on a case handled only rarely by modern writers. The historical sources available with respect to these crimes are minimal, but the authors have here drawn on as many as are known to exist to create a very thoughtful analysis of the case, with the context of its time and its subsequent influence on the English judicial system, and a fascinating and involving book withal.
Jan 08, 2014 Deanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In 1811 two episodes of multiple murder took place in London within a short space of time. At that instant there was no organised police force, and what there was in the way of night watchmen were fairly ineffectual. However people were rounded up and questioned, though usually held on flimsy evidence.
James gives a balanced look at the story, including questioning the ultimate result of the hunt for the killer/s.
Linda Hardy
In 1811 two families were murdered along the Ratcliffe Highway in east London, who was the murderer? Police and local Watchmen had their suspicions but before a man could be charged with the murders he committed suicide, but was he really the killer? Interesting story about a time in London's history I knew little of, but found the story a bit longwinded, could of been condensed a bit.
Becky Loader
May 10, 2014 Becky Loader rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After I read "Murder as a Fine Art," I had to see how much research the author had done into the Ratcliffe Highway murders, which took place in 1811. The answer? A lot! A murderer (or murderers) committed two horrendous crimes in the rough area of Wapping, and the crimes were never satisfactorily solved. With no obvious motive for the attacks and terrible handling of evidence, the police bumbled through many suspects. The one they settled on as being the most likely, committed suicide. His very ...more
I guess I was expecting this book to be more like James' novels than a straight up historical account, but that's what it is. The coauthors recount, in great detail, the 1811 murders of two up-and-coming merchant families in London's East End. Suspects abound, but there is no official police force in England at this time, not even the most primitive concept of forensic science, and the officials that are in place are mostly less-than-competent.

After arresting and interrogating numerous men, the
María Olvera
Me gustó muchísimo todo, menos los últimos capítulos. No es que sean malos, pero es una especie de recuento/comentario sobre los sucesos en general y se repiten cosas que se narraron anteriormente. Y pues me sentí cansada en esa última parte.
Fuera de eso está todo muy bien. Recogen las pruebas existentes sobre las investigaciones que se llevaron a cabo y se completa el relato con lo que quedó escrito. Lo bueno es que es la versión novelada de la historia, aunque sin dejar de lado que lo que se n
Sep 12, 2008 Alice rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: crime and mystery buffs!
Shelves: mysteries
This is the second time I have read a crime writer's account of an unsolved historical crime. It is wonderful to see that life is stranger than fiction and no less interesting. James does a fabulous job weaving the factual historical account into a captivating story! BRAVO!
Cleo Bannister
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 oyst
Katherine Addison
The Maul and the Pear Tree is about two horrific crimes in 1811: two houses invaded, the inhabitants beaten to death with a maul or a ripping chisel, and then their throats cut, and all for no apparent reason (one of the victims was a three-month-old baby, so it's hard to imagine a pressing motive). James and Critchley (on the book's original publication in 1971, it was Critchley and James, but that was another country, and besides the wench is dead) doubt the guilt of the man arrested for the c ...more
Mar 13, 2014 Michele rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the third book I have read pertaining to these murders. I started with a fiction book loosely based on the murders, then I read DeQuincey's historical writings. This is a true-crime version and was by far the most factual account. It was well-researched and well-written and when the authors injected personal opinions they were clearly identified and supported with sound reasoning. Very interesting is the story of the justice system in 1811 England. The police force was just forming (or " ...more
(Contains spoilers, but no more than appear on the book flap.)

Mystery writer P.D. James and police historian and Home Office member T.A. Critchley co-wrote this true-crime account of London's Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811, in which seven people, including an infant, were brutally bludgeoned in two separate events over a two-week period. Crime-fighting was organized by parish, and constables were volunteer. They were supplemented by watchmen and beadles who were susceptible to bribes. It wasn
I'm reading this a second time to get the details straight in my mind. I've seldom read a book which gives such a clear picture of the setting both in time and place. It was like walking through the events with James as guide, pointing out people and things as you pass by. Williams as sole murderer seemed a bit too pat for me and his suicide was certainly questionable so I am not surprised that there were questions being asked. The disappearance of the inquiry, the total disappearance, certainly ...more
Aug 17, 2012 Ali rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I downloaded this book to my kindle to read while away, I had thought it would prove an engrossing holiday read and help boost my non-fiction reading which has been fairly dismal this year. I have only read a couple of PD James's novels and I believe this has been her only true crime book thus far. Using what records that remain P D James and T A Critchley attempt to re-create the sensational case of the Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811. Needless to say after such a passage of time - not all re ...more
Jun 09, 2012 Debra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
In December 1811, about sixty-five years before Jack the Ripper, another killer ran amuck in East London, killing seven people involving two families (one a three-month-old baby) along the Ratcliffe Highway. The highway was not the unpopulated thoroughfare we think of today, but a crowded street near the Thames filled with public houses, shops, and dilapidated houses catering to transient sailors. The crimes terrified people for their brutality and boldness, and authorities were pressured to fin ...more
Dec 19, 2011 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, mystery
I deliberately began reading The Maul and the Pear Tree exactly two hundred years to the day that the horrific killing spree known as the Ratcliffe Highway murders began, on December 7th 1811. Four innocent people, including a babe in arms, were butchered in London's East End that first night, stretching the rudimentary resources of the parish, the local magistrates and the Thames police based in Wapping. It inaugurated a period of terror, suspicion and xenophobia in St George's and the neighbou ...more
John Mccullough
Feb 10, 2013 John Mccullough rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a meticulous re-examination of two infamous sets of murders in 1811 London. John Williams (Murphy?) was never accused of the murders but may have been found guilty in the public mind. He committed suicide (or was he murdered?) while in custody and the matts were declared closed. P. D. James and her co-author T. A. Critchley carefully examine what is left of the documentary evidence as all else is "gone." They describe the murders of the Marrs and the Williamson families in detail. Their ...more
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 writ
The website Spitalfields Life led me to The Maul and the Pear Tree, a book P.D. James wrote with T.A. Critchley.
Two families, Marr and Williamson, were murdered within days of each other in 1811 in their homes on Ratcliffe Highway. James and Critchley examine the crimes, how such crimes were investigated in the early 1800s in London and whether or not the suspect charged with the murders was guilty or not.
It hardly seemed those investigating the murders were knowledgeable enough for the job.
Sep 01, 2014 Melet rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
An interesting choice for Ms. James- the case is convoluted and without a satisfying ending. Too much detail in several places- I got bogged down in the text on every other page. Excellent picture of the problems of searching for a murderer(s) before the "police" as we know them today existed- and of what this part of England looked like for the working poor. Well researched but with a running commentary of the authors' clear disdain for the authorities' activities at the time. I am a fan of PD ...more
Kevin K. Gillette
Jul 26, 2014 Kevin K. Gillette rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a fascinating work of non-fiction by a Grande Dame of mystery fiction and a colleague. An old (early-19th-century) mass murder case is examined with the scantest of materials: old newspaper accounts, what remain of police reports, etc. James and Critchley draw the reader along for the ride as the relatively unorganized London police force attempt to put the pieces together. DId they get it right? You'll have to read and make up your own mind!
Wayne E.
Very interesting. True story of two multiple murders which took place n London in 1811. The author details the murders, which took place just before Christmas. Of particular interest is the description of the way the police and investors operated and whether the case was actually solved.
Chandrashekar Gangaraju
It was too detailed and I could not sustain interest throughout although I finished the book. It was interesting to see details about London and the judiciary process.
I did not feel that the authors had anything to add to their research with few forensic pieces of information.
Sep 15, 2015 Jim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 21, 2013 Suzanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this retelling of the Ratcliffe Highway murders covered off more angles than the traditional more lurid true crime book - a careful, evidence-based investigation of whether the right man was blamed, coupled with an evocative picture of the Georgian East End and nascent police force. If nothing else it is an interesting take on the importance of effective information-sharing and rigorous analysis at a time when it is most needed but least likely to happen: in the midst of crisis and panic ...more
David Bowles
Could be a difficult book to read at times. Very interesting and sad story about brutal murders which happened early in the nineteenth century in squalid East-end London. Seems like a miscarriage of justice. Some of the language of the newspaper reports of the time difficult to read and hard work, but give a clear vision of the day.
Jun 19, 2016 Jonathan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
sorely disappointing. a rather dry, dusty account of two spectacularly shocking murders. I know the authors were trying to present the facts but some healthy historical dramatization would have gone a long way!
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P.D. (Phyllis Dorothy) James was the author of over twenty books, most of which have been filmed and broadcast on television in the United States and other countries. She spent thirty years in various departments of the British Civil Service, including the Police and Criminal Law Department of Great Britain's Home Office. She served as a magistrate and as a governor of th
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