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A Very British Murder

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Murder - a dark, shameful deed, the last resort of the desperate or a vile tool of the greedy. And a very strange, very British obsession. But where did this fixation develop? And what does it tell us about ourselves?

In A Very British Murder, Lucy Worsley explores this phenomenon in forensic detail, revisiting notorious crimes like the Ratcliff Highway Murders, which caused a nation-wide panic in the early nineteenth century, and the case of Frederick and Maria Manning, the suburban couple who were hanged after killing Maria's lover and burying him under their kitchen floor. Our fascination with crimes like these became a form of national entertainment, inspiring novels and plays, puppet shows and paintings, poetry and true-crime journalism. At a point during the birth of modern Britain, murder entered our national psyche, and it's been a part of us ever since.

A Very British Murder is a unique exploration of the art of crime, and a riveting investigation into the British soul by one of our finest historians.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published September 12, 2013

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About the author

Lucy Worsley

25 books2,424 followers
I was born in Reading (not great, but it could have been Slough), studied Ancient and Modern History at New College, Oxford, and I've got a PhD in art history from the University of Sussex.

My first job after leaving college was at a crazy but wonderful historic house called Milton Manor in Oxfordshire. Here I would give guided tours, occasionally feed the llamas, and look for important pieces of paper that my boss Anthony had lost. Soon after that I moved to the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, in the lovely job for administrator of the Wind and Watermills Section. Here I helped to organise that celebrated media extravaganza, National Mills Day. I departed for English Heritage in 1997, first as an Assistant Inspector and then as an Inspector of Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings; Bolsover Castle, Hardwick Old Hall, and Kirby Hall were my favourite properties there. In 2002 I made a brief excursion to Glasgow Museums before coming down to London as Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces in 2003. Yes, this is a brilliant job, but no, you can’t have it. (Bribes have been offered, and refused.)

You might also catch me presenting history films on the old goggle box, giving the talks on the cruise ship Queen Mary 2, or slurping cocktails.


Lucy Worsley, OBE (born 18 December 1973) is an English historian, author, curator, and television presenter.

Worsley is Joint Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces but is best known as a presenter of BBC Television series on historical topics, including Elegance and Decadence: The Age of the Regency (2011), Harlots, Housewives and Heroines: A 17th Century History for Girls (2012), The First Georgians: The German Kings Who Made Britain (2014), A Very British Romance (2015), Lucy Worsley: Mozart’s London Odyssey (2016), and Six Wives with Lucy Worsley (2016).

-From Wikipedia

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 534 reviews
Profile Image for Julie .
4,031 reviews58.9k followers
February 16, 2021
The Art of the English Murder: From Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock by Lucy Worsley is a 2014 Pegasus Books publication.

A must read for British Crime Enthusiasts-

This non-fiction book outlines the history of British Crime- both real and fictional and their obsession with crime and murder. It’s not just the British, though. I happen to love, love, love British crime fiction. Two of my all- time favorite book series are British Mysteries- one historical and one set in present day.

I also love my Brit-Box-(Worsely has a television version of this book currently airing on this service) and Acorn TV subscriptions too. Great crime series- from dark and gritty to light and cozy.

This book explores all the flavors of British Crime- Scotland Yard, Sherlock Holmes, the Golden Age, and true crime.

The book is mainly focused on historical British Crime- not contemporary- and is well- researched, but never dwells too long in one place. In fact, the book is only a little over three hundred pages and covers a lot of ground in that space.

Some of the history is more interesting than others, but this book was right up my alley. It reminded me of some great mysteries I’ve read over the years and had me thinking of re-reading a few of them, and also reminded me of authors I have yet to try.

Despite the occasional imbalance in the flow, I think this book is perfect for those obsessed with the history of British Crime. Some of the material is probably familiar for the aficionado, but it will still be fun to revisit it. For someone just now developing an interest in British Crime, this book could serve as a crash course and give you lots of material to research and may send you off on a few deep dives for more detailed information.

I breezed through this one quickly, enthralled as always, by actual crimes and the evolution of British Crime novels through the years. Crime fiction lovers will want to add this one!

4 stars
Profile Image for Candi.
614 reviews4,644 followers
January 2, 2021
“Sitting down after a hard day’s work, slippers on, guard lowered… for the last 200 years murder has been the topic to which readers turn for comfort and relaxation.”

I don’t read loads of non-fiction, but I’m constantly on the lookout for one that will thoroughly engage me while at the same time sneaking in a lesson or two. I don’t necessarily want to know that I’m being ‘taught’ something. I like it to sort of just happen! A couple of years ago I came across the name Lucy Worsley. Worsley is a British historian and a BBC television series presenter. Her name was attached to one of my favorite authors – Jane Austen. I discovered that she had written a book titled Jane Austen at Home, a biography that highlighted Austen’s writing from the context of the various homes in which she had once resided or visited. It was thoroughly researched, and being an Austen fangirl, I was completely absorbed by it! I dragged out all my Austen novels, caressed their covers, opened them and lined each up in the center of my bookshelf. But I’m getting away from the point of this review. This review is actually about the history of British true crime stories, the rise of mysteries and detective fiction, and the thrall that murder has always held over the public.

“It turns out that what the lower middle and working classes most wanted to do, in their leisure time, was to come face-to-face with murderers. And if that wasn’t possible, they wanted to read about them.”

From public hangings, to wax museums, to Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, to Sherlock Holmes and forensic science, to sensation novels, to the first female detective fiction, to the Golden Age crime novelists and more, this work covers a lot of ground without ever getting bogged down. It’s not heavy in detail but an interesting overview for those that prefer a broad scope rather than a narrow focus on any one piece of this history and trend. The writing is almost conversational in tone with a bent towards humor on occasion. While visiting a museum in Bury St Edmunds, Worsley confesses to holding the scalp of an infamous murderer and experiencing “a mixture of macabre pleasure and guilt at interfering with the remains of a human being.” I suspect she holds as much delight as the next person in the more ghoulish aspects of crime! She also delves into the development of an organized police force in England and the changing attitudes towards that profession.

Informative and entertaining, The Art of the English Murder is likely to appeal to those that are interested in the evolution of crime stories and detective novels. Now and then Worsley will wander into spoiler-y territory regarding particular books, but I’m not pointing this out as a complaint. Perhaps more of a heads-up to anyone that might be considering a read of one of those stories in the near future. Otherwise, she doesn’t go into depth with any one book in order for me to invoke a strong “warning”. Her enthusiasm for her topics is contagious and make for a lively diversion. No doubt I’ll make my way through her list!

“Our guilty pleasures reveal a lot about who we really are.”
Profile Image for Amy Sturgis.
Author 38 books384 followers
October 24, 2014
Parts One and Two of Lucy Worsley's book ("How to Enjoy a Murder" and "Enter the Detective") cover much of the same material I do when teaching my graduate courses "The Gothic Tradition" and "Sherlock, Science, and Ratiocination." While the information presented wasn't new to me, I appreciated the excellent organization and thoroughness of Worsley's investigation. About the time I would think, for example, "Next up should be the Road Hill House Murder and its influence on novels like The Moonstone," there the expected chapter would be.

Part Three, "The Golden Age," was equally well thought out, and Worsley's analysis gave me some welcome new insights about the "dead end" of the interwar detective novel before British genre authors followed their U.S. counterparts into the hard-boiled, noir style of storytelling. On a personal note, Worsley's balanced and insightful analysis helped me finally to articulate why I can read Wilkie Collins or Arthur Conan Doyle all day long, over and over again with relish, while the works of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers leave me cold.

I especially admired Worsley's elegant use of two essays - Thomas De Quincey's "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts" (1827) and George Orwell's "Decline of the English Murder" (1946) - as the framing works between which her intellectual history unfolds.

Beautifully done.

Profile Image for Susan.
2,644 reviews598 followers
September 16, 2013
This book has been written to accompany a television series of the same name and does, as a consequence jump around a little in subject matter. The book begins and ends with discussion of an essay - the first being, "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts" by Thomas De Quincey and finishes with an appraisal of "The Decline of the English Murder" by George Orwell. This is not really about crime, as such, although many crimes are discussed - it is about how, especially since the nineteenth century, the British began to "enjoy and consume the idea of a murder."

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.
Profile Image for Melora.
575 reviews142 followers
February 1, 2016
A quick, entertaining history of English murder as popular entertainment. The author, Lucy Worsley, takes as the beginning of the presentation of murder packaged for public consumption the essay of Thomas De Quincey, “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts, 1827. She traces the popular appreciation of murder from here on through Madame Tussaud's Waxworks; the “Penny Blood” booklet; Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins; the Ballad (and puppet show) of Maria Marten; the cases of Dr. William Palmer, Madeleine Smith, Florence Bravo, and others, as newspaper drama; Robert Louis Stevenson and Jack the Ripper; Sherlock Holmes and forensic science; the Golden Age writers, Christie, Sayers, Allingham; and, finally, Dashiell Hammett, Graham Greene, and Alfred Hitchcock. And that's just a quick survey – she actually covers a lot more. Worsley examines changing public attitudes towards crime and law enforcement, particularly from the Georgian period, where she begins, through the Victorians. I found the history of the police and detective forces, developing from the older system of constables and watchmen, particularly interesting.

Worsley's manner of citing the work of other authors of books on English murder, often Judith Flanders and P.D. James, struck me as a little odd (a bit “research paper-ish”) until I realized that it was actually a function of this book having been written in conjunction with the production of a television series, “A Very British Murder.” She brings in the work of other writers in the same way she brings in guest “experts” on the television show. It wasn't really an issue, and I'd be glad to see the television series if it were available (some of the ballads, puppet shows, and dramas she describes would be interesting to see!). While this book does not focus exclusively on detective fiction, it includes a nice survey of English detective fiction through to the “hard-boiled” period, and I found it a fun and instructive read.
Profile Image for Pam Baddeley.
Author 2 books45 followers
February 20, 2021
This is the second of this author's works I have read. She has an easy to read style with a slight quirkiness, reminiscent of her presentation style on TV. I haven't seen the TV programme/series on which this book was based, but can envisage it from the structure of this book and the general style in which it comes across.

I was surprised initially by the fact that the first few chapters were about real life murders a couple of centuries ago and the reporting of such in the news sheets of the day, rather than the literary treatment of the subject. But that soon started to interweave with the factual material in the narrative. The author's theme is that the British came to 'consume' the subject of murder for entertainment, initially in cheap broadsheets, and later on in Penny Bloods and Penny Dreadfuls, cheap forerunners of the paperback of the 20th century. The growth of literacy in the 19th century led to a pulpish, sensational style of literature for the working masses. Initially there was also a theatrical style of entertainment - the melodrama - with its overacting and dramatic makeup, intended to make the actor's facial expressions visible to packed audiences in large auditoriums. Such plays often took for their subject matter the celebrated murders of the day, such as the Murder in the Red Barn, but this style of drama gradually gave way to a more highbrow theatre clientele, as the book explains, leading the less well off to attend the music halls instead. These were venues for light entertainment, so literature, in the form of Penny Bloods/Dreadfuls and the 'sensation' novel were left to provide people with their murder 'entertainment'.

An interesting point made by the author was that the unsolved 'Jack the Ripper' murders followed close on the opening of a stage adaptation of Robert Louis Stephenson's Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde. She suggests that the subsequent theories about the crimes, which focus on privileged members of society, such as the Duke of Clarence, instead of considering that the perpretrator was a working class man native to the area, stem from perceptions originating from this drama which caused a huge sensation at the time.

I had previously read about some of the celebrated cases covered - the murders on the Ratcliffe Highway and the Red Barn and the one which formed the subject of 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher' - but the author also draws upon cases now less known, and describes the development of the police force and crime investigation. After discussion of Arthur Conan Doyle's, Charles Dickens' and Wilkie Collins' contributions to the fictional portrayal of detectives, the book considers the Four Queens of Crime of the interwar period, which has become known as the Golden Age of crime fiction. Of those, I have read only Agatha Christie, as the upper class sleuths in the works of Dorothy L Sayers, for instance, have never appealed. Detective fiction at this time championed the type of story which has now become known as 'cosy crime', although the author never calls it this, investigated by private and/or amateur sleuths. The book concludes with the decline of this type of crime fiction and its replacement by hard boiled stories by the likes of Raymond Chandler in the USA, and thriller writers such as Ian Fleming.

I enjoyed the book though there are some odd omissions, such as there being no mention of Edgar Alan Poe's 'The Murders in the Rue Morge', during the discussion of what constituted the earliest detective fictional work. First published in 1841, that story preceded the portrayals in Dickens' and Collins' works by over ten years, and is generally considered to be the first modern detective story. Similarly, when dealing with techonological progress in crime fighting, the development of telegraphy is not mentioned, even though it was responsible for the capture of the notorious Dr Crippen, who again is not mentioned. Also, the writer does unfortunately include 'spoilers' about certain fictional works - luckily, I had already read some of those but that wasn't always the case.

There are some useful sources mentioned for further reading and the author does acknowledge her debt to earlier writers about crime fiction. I would certainly like to follow up some of these references. But given the slightly uneven treatment of the subject, I would rate the book as an enjoyable 3 star read.
Profile Image for Lori  Keeton.
479 reviews107 followers
December 23, 2020
The Art of the English Murder by Lucy Worsley is written to accompany a BBC television series on which she is a presenter. Her research brought about a written version which provides a plethora of information regarding the British interest in the idea of murder. The fact that the British enjoyed and couldn’t get enough of murder is outlined and discussed by Worsley but not meant to be an encompassing book on crime itself. Several high interest and notorious crimes are highlighted throughout and the murderers lives described. Worsley pinpoints how crime was handled and the limitations of the investigators trying to solve the crimes.

Worsley describes the fact that hangings and murders provided entertainment to the public, even so much so that the people bought trinkets as souvenirs. Continuing on with the entertainment theme, Worsley introduces sensational journalism, the theatre, Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, a puppet show, and detective fiction. In addition, she talks about the founding of the organized police force, detective work, ‘Penny Bloods’ (the precursor to crime fiction), poisonings, and forensic science.

In the last part of the book, Worsley takes a look at some of the best crime fiction authors including Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Dorothy L. Sayers.

I actually learned quite a bit while reading this despite the author jumping around the topics. Many of the topics she presented were interesting and the way she included the social aspects of the 18th and 19th centuries was helpful in keeping the British enthusiasm for crime and murder in context. If you enjoy crime fiction you’ll most likely find this highly entertaining. It may even encourage you to pick up some of the titles she discusses throughout.
Profile Image for Jo Chambers.
122 reviews11 followers
June 26, 2017
This book formed the basis of a short TV series presented by Lucy on the history of the British crime novel. Lucy Worsley is one of my favourite historians, she is always so enthusiastic and engaging, with a wonderful sense of humour and great insight. The book traces the development of the British crime novel from its beginnings in the Georgian Sensation novels and fascination with real life crimes, through the Victorian crime novels -Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle, and into the Golden Age of classic detective novels in the 1920s and 30s -Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers et al. Lucy concludes that we can learn a lot about contemporary society from the crime books we read. The cosy crimes of the interwar years were a reaction against the horrors of the Great War, for example. This was a fascinating read about the history of my favourite book genre!
Profile Image for Margaret.
Author 14 books84 followers
November 9, 2014
An excellent look at the English attitude to murder, both real and fictional.

Some lovely background on the Detection Club.

Learned some very interesting little pieces of trivia like the fact that E. W. Hornung, the creator of the gentleman thief, Raffles, was the brother-in-law of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Well worth a read by anyone interested in crime and the golden age of detective fiction.
Profile Image for Tania.
756 reviews67 followers
January 17, 2022
The story of how we (the public), have derived entertainment from murder, both real and imaginary.

Interesting, very readable, and not in the least bit dry. There are a few spoilers for well known novels.
Profile Image for Esther.
425 reviews105 followers
July 14, 2021
I don’t read a lot of non-fiction but I was attracted to this because it came up as a book club choice just after I had enjoyed several Lucy Worsley documentaries. And there is the fact that the subject matter includes Agatha Christie.

I was quite engaged by the beginning, as it details the shocking murders that were reported with such scandalous relish they garnered a wide interest and in a changing worl of industrial revolution and urbanization changed the public perception of such incidents.
It was interesting to read how these murders, and the reporting of them, affected the novels that followed and inspired a whole new genre of cheap magazines and news sheets that at first related the ,highly embellished, facts of real cases and then, in order to satisfy the readers’ voracious curiosity, created fictional stories in the same vein.
The narrative explains how and why the readers’s original delight in the gory even sordid murders gradually developed into a preference for the more genteel country house murder mystery.
It also touches on the origins and evolution of the police and more specifically the emergence of the detective.

The post-war story was less enthralling and couldn’t really tackle the wide variety of new genres and writing styles. Instead it gave a quick summary of the most influential writers and the changing attitudes including the popularity of the thriller.

Although not earth-shattering or even melodramatic, despite its content, this is a solid, interesting account and was enjoyable to read in addition to being informative.
Profile Image for Елена Суббота.
209 reviews32 followers
January 13, 2021
К сожалению, книга мне не понравилась.
Начну с очевидного. В научно-популярной литературе бить нужно или в сторону научности или в сторону увлекательности. Первого Уорсли и не обещала, но второе как раз должно быть её коньком. И вот тут я как раз разочарована: книге остро не хватает перца - будь то юмор, личный опыт автора, небанальные рассуждения по теме или иллюстрации (последних вообще чертовски не хватает). Да, не отрицаю, Уорсли потрогала забальзамированное ухо преступника и провела беседу с внуком Агаты Кристи, но этого мало.

Впрочем, у меня имеется и более серьезная претензия. Если в первой части книги Уорсли проводит прямую связь между реальными преступлениями и тем, как они отзеркаливались в литературе (справедливости ради - первая часть вообще хороша), то следующие части беззастенчиво крутятся вокруг кратких биографий авторов детективов. После них вы вряд ли научитесь отличать друг от друга королев британского детектива (хотя про Дороти Сэйерс написано всё же неплохо), но точно узнаете пару недобрых сплетен и домыслов об интимной жизни Агаты Кристи. Как это связано с основной темой монографии - не знаю.

Еще я довольно-таки зла на Люси Уорсли за школьного типа пересказы содержания романов и, что хуже, спойлеры к некоторым из них. И если вы ещё не читали "Кто убил Роджера Экройда" Кристи или романы Уилки Коллинза, рекомендую читать гл.14 и 22, зажмурив хотя бы один глаз.
Profile Image for Bettie.
9,989 reviews14 followers
August 31, 2015

Description: Murder - a dark, shameful deed, the last resort of the desperate or a vile tool of the greedy. And a very strange, very English obsession. But where did this fixation develop? And what does it tell us about ourselves? In The Art of the English Murder, Lucy Worsley explores this phenomenon in forensic detail, revisiting notorious crimes like the Ratcliff Highway Murders, which caused a nationwide panic in the early nineteenth century, and the case of Frederick and Maria Manning, the suburban couple who were hanged after killing Maria s lover and burying him under their kitchen floor. Our fascination with crimes like these became a form of national entertainment, inspiring novels and plays, prose and paintings, poetry and true-crime journalism. At a point during the birth of modern England, murder entered our national psyche, and it s been a part of us ever since. The Art of the English Murder is a unique exploration of the art of crime and a riveting investigation into the English criminal soul by one of our finest historians."

Although this sent me off researching fuller versions of incidents mentioned, the worth of The Art of the English Murder itself had little allure.
Profile Image for Leslie.
2,745 reviews2 followers
May 7, 2018
This is a print companion to a TV series which was shown in the US on PBS. I will watch / read anything from Lucy Worsley.

The title is a bit misleading because the author actually begins long before Jack walked the streets of Whitechapel. We get a bit of history of policing, punishment and the horrific Regency murders, Ratcliff Highway murders https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ratclif....

It is quiet interesting to read about the evolution of the mystery novel and the Penny Dreadful. This is a book that doesn't require you to read from cover to cover but can dip in and out of at your convenience.
Profile Image for Gintautas Ivanickas.
Author 14 books200 followers
March 2, 2021
Lucy Worsley – britų istorikė, rašytoja, istorinių TV laidų kūrėja ir vedančioji. Jei užmetate akį į BBC ar History kanalą, labai tikėtina, kad esate kurį nors iš jos laidų ciklą matę. Gal netgi 2013 metų laidų ciklą „A Very British Murder“, kuris, kaip nesunku nuspėti iš pavadinimo, ir tapo pagrindu šiai knygai.
Knyga – savotiška studija, nagrinėjanti britų „liguistą nacionalinę maniją žmogžudystei“, kaip tai pavadina Worsley. Ne, ne pačiam nužudymui – nereikia manyt, kad britai apsėsti manijos ką nors nužudyti. Kalba apie smalsumo maniją. Gal ne visada sveiko smalsumo. Bet britiška ta manija tik todėl, kad autorė pasakoja apie savo tėvynainius. Mes juk irgi ne kitokie. Būtume kitokie – nebūtų tų penktojo „Lietryčio“ puslapio skaitytojų (tiesa sakant, nebežinau, ar kriminalinės naujienos vis dar bazuojasi penktam puslapy – bet esmės tai nekeičia).
Ir tyrinėdama tą „maniją“ Worsley lygiagrečiai tyrinėja detektyvo, kaip žanro, užgimimą. Nes tai, be abejo susiję. Įdomių įžvalgų netrūksta – lyg ir labai naujų faktų nesužinojau, bet žvilgtelėjau į tai visai kitokiu kampu. Ir tapo akivaizdžiau, kaip žanras reagavo į laikmetį, prisitaikydamas, keisdamasis. Kartais net bandydamas lenkti laiką. Bet dažniausiai tas aplenkimas amžininkų likdavo neįvertintas.
Tiems kam tema įdomi – turėtų patikti. Aš visai tvirtus keturis iš penkių atseikėju.
Profile Image for Kaethe.
6,408 reviews463 followers
February 24, 2015
How did we come to a place where crime is entertainment? It's a really good question. Short answer: as the odds of certain risks (murder) go down, fascination with it goes up. Well, Worsley wrote a whole book explaining it better that that, and a very entertaining book it is, tracing the rise of newspapers, fictional detectives, the golden age of crime writing. I particularly enjoy the history of policing and detection, but it's all good.

Library copy
Profile Image for Leah.
1,389 reviews210 followers
February 4, 2015
From melodrama to noir...

Lucy Worsley has set out to trace the roots of the British obsession with murder – as consumers, rather than participants. She makes the case that the fascination with murder corresponded to the increasing urbanisation of Britain during the nineteenth century which, because neighbours no longer knew each other as they had done in a more rural age, meant that murders could be much harder to detect. And what could be more thrilling than knowing that a murderer might be on the loose? Combine that with the rise of affordable printed material, such as the Penny Dreadfuls that became available during the Victorian era, and suddenly the commercial potential of murder, real or fictional, was huge.

The book is light in tone and an easy, enjoyable read. Worsley also presented a companion TV series (which I didn’t watch) and the book is written in an episodic format, presumably to tie in with that. Much of the material will be familiar to anyone with an interest in crime fiction or true crime, but the format draws interesting parallels between the society of a given time and how that influenced the type of crime fiction that was being written. She takes us through the major real-life cases of the Victorian age, such as the Road Hill House murder or the Maria Manning case and shows how these were reflected both in stage melodrama and in the early crime fiction of Dickens, Wilkie Collins et al. We see how the rise of the detective in real-life began to be mirrored in some fiction, while the early failures of the police to solve crimes left the door open for the rise of the fictional amateur sleuth. Of course, Worsley talks about Holmes and Watson in this context, but she also casts her net more widely to discuss sensation writers such as Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and early fictional female sleuths and how they reflected and to some degree challenged the Victorian view of women in general.

As she moves into the twentieth century, Worsley largely pulls away from true crime to concentrate on the fictional. She discusses the Golden Age authors in some depth, giving almost mini-biographies of some of them, particularly Dorothy L Sayers. She argues (as others have done) that the Golden Age puzzle with its fairly defined rules developed as a response to the horrors of WW1 and fed into a society that wanted something a bit cosier than the blood-curdling melodramas of the past. She discusses how class and gender were represented in these novels, but keeps the tone light – though it’s clearly well-researched, this book never reads like an academic study.

After the Golden Age, Worsley rushes through hard-boiled fiction and today’s appetite for the noir and the serial-killer, but this last chapter is really just a post-script. Her position seems to be that the mystery novel declined as a form after the Second World War, to be replaced by the more violent thriller genre – true to an extent, but the huge market for cosies suggests to me that there’s a bigger appetite for ‘traditional’ murder mysteries still than I felt Worsley acknowledged. And there are still plenty of police procedurals that at heart are the descendants of the Golden Age, where clues and character are still more important than blood-soaked scenes of violence and torture. Thank goodness!

An interesting and enjoyable read, which I would suggest would be an ideal entry-level book for anyone looking to find out more about the history of crime fiction and its links with society.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House Ebury.

Profile Image for Elizabeth A.G..
166 reviews
January 8, 2021
This was an interesting exploration into the fascination of the English with murder and real life crime and of the development of the mystery genre in English literature. Worsley reveals how real-life crimes led to a type of public, obsessive fascination and a form of national entertainment that were eventually the inspirations for novels, plays, and other artistic works. She credits the early English author, Thomas De Quincey, for postulating the idea of "murder as a performance that raised expectations in the public mind." Crime and murder were discovered to provide public entertainment that "would thrill, horrify, and delight" leading to the popularity of the mystery novel. Worsley describes the various mystery authors who arose in the 19th century, the depiction of policing (which early on was slipshod), the rise of the detective, newly discovered scientific means of investigating and solving a crime or murder and discusses how authors created stories that encapsulated the horror, the thrill and finally the revealing of the culprit. Worsley discusses the early "sensation" crime novels, the more cerebral "Golden Age" mystery with its formulaic pattern, and leads into the modern hardcore thriller that is criticized by George Orwell. While this book is a history of the English murder mystery, Worsley's style is not pedantic, but engaging with some humor along the way and informative of new knowledge and insights gained by this reader. The book is based on a BBC presentation which I would like to watch and I am interested in reading her book, Jane Austen at Home.

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Profile Image for Liz Barnsley.
3,433 reviews993 followers
January 27, 2014
Thank you for the review copy via netgalley.

I've been dipping in and out of this one as I like to do with Non Fiction and as a reader interested in true crime and indeed crime fiction this was a great little read.

It is focussed less on actual crime but more on our fascination with it - and how in a lot of ways it became a source of entertainment for the public and inspiration for many fictional stories. Examining several "high profile" cases - the most interesting of which for me was the Ratcliff Highway Murders as I knew nothing about them - this traces back the roots of the public fascination for all things macabre in a very accessible way.

Also looking at crime fiction from Holmes to Christie to Sayers amongst others, this was a fascinating insight into crime and our different obsessions with it. I admittedly have not watched the television show that this is accompanies but I may have to rectify that.

If you are interested in Crime, both as fiction and as reality, especially in how it affects the public psyche, then you will certainly find a lot to appreciate here.

Happy Reading Folks!
Profile Image for Asya.
275 reviews39 followers
December 28, 2020
Отзыв сюда не влез, поэтому полная версия в телеграме.

Классная книжка, в которой сжато, но информативно рассказана удивительная история того, как одержимость преступлениями повлияла на развитие искусства в Викторианскую эпоху и позже: первые грошовые листовки с подробностями суда и следствия, театральные постановки по мотивам знаменитых дел, экскурсии по местам преступлений, сувениры с портретами убийц, музеи, посвящённые громким преступлениям, и наконец первые детективные романы. В книге много удивительных историй о преступлениях (например, одна женщина случайно отравила мужа хлороформом, когда пыталась его усыпить, чтобы избежать секса и последующей беременности) и быте в викторианскую эпоху. Более того, A Very British Murder — история о возникновении полиции и развитии детективного жанра: например, автор подобно рассказывает о прототипах героев Диккенса и преступлениях, которые оказали влияние на творчество Хичкока.

Рекомендую всем, кто хочет понять природу всеобщей любви к детективному жанру.
Profile Image for Jill Hutchinson.
1,460 reviews105 followers
August 6, 2015
I wasn't sure exactly where this book was going when I first started it since the way the information is presented is rather confusing. It appeared to be short chapters on famous Victorian murders but suddenly morphed into what the Victorian reader trends were regarding murders and the reporting thereof. Once that was established, the author discussed the various authors, types of reporting (broadsides, graphic "yellow books" etc.) and the changes in reading tastes of the not so staid Victorians. Lots of interesting information is contained in this short books which ends with the Golden Age of Mystery (1920-40) and how the mystery has really become the thrillers that we read today. Lots of fun for the mystery fan, especially those written in Britain.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,009 followers
November 10, 2017
A Very British Murder is an extremely readable, sometimes gossipy survey of the development of crime/mystery literature in Britain, up to the Golden Age of Sayers and Christie. It examines why people loved a good murder story, and what kind of murder story they wanted, while also reflecting on some of the real murders that occurred and the anxieties surrounding them.

I especially enjoyed Worsley’s sympathy for Sayers and Christie, and her defence of Gaudy Night against a male critic’s boredom about it. Quite right, too!

It’s not deep lit crit, or a totally in depth micro-history, but there’s interesting stuff and it’s entertainingly written.

Reviewed for The Bibliophibian.
Profile Image for Christine.
6,618 reviews478 followers
December 23, 2014
This isn’t quite as good as the Judith Flanders book which Worsley does draw on. That said, however, it is either a good companion volume or a good place to start depending on which order you are reading them in. In fact, if the Flanders’ book looks too daunting, this one, shorter, is good enough to be read in lieu of.
If you have read the Flanders book, there is supplemental information here, and while Worsley does focus on more of the cases, since she is focusing on fewer, there is more information. There is a little more focus on the impact on literature as well as the view of women. The writing style is engrossing.
Profile Image for Tweedledum .
777 reviews61 followers
August 25, 2015
Lucy Worsley romps through 100 years of detective fiction with typical enthusiasm and energy. The first half of the book was much more detailed than the second which felt rather rushed, nevertheless I enjoyed Worsley's potted history being a fan of crime fiction and found that there were many ideas new to me. The ending felt rather abrupt as though Worsley had run out of time to write more but overall I found that the book was quite a page turner in it's own right and made me want to revisit many of the greats of crime fiction including Wilkie Collins and Dorothy Sayers with fresh eyes.
Profile Image for Gerry.
Author 43 books92 followers
August 2, 2022
Lucy Worsley looks at murder through the eyes of writers in fiction and fact through the ages, beginning with comments on Thomas de Quincey's essay 'On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts' that was inspired by the so-called Ratcliffe Highway Murders of 1811. This multiple murder saw the beginning of the gruesome correlation between lurid reporting of a crime that sparked a massive increase in the sales of newspapers and thus engendered the interest of the public.

In 1849 the case of Frederick and Maria Manning, the suburban couple who were hanged after killing Maria's lover and burying him under their kitchen floor, spurned what was alleged to be the authentic memoirs of Maria Manning. It provided national entertainment for quite some time and sold an incredible 500,000 copies.

Literature began to pick up on murder and the horror associated with it and the Gothic novel was the first genre devoted entirely to creating feelings of horror, revulsion, awe and excitement. Mrs Radcliffe with 'The Mysteries of the Udolpho', 1794, was arguably the first to be followed by the famous 'Penny Bloods' that gave the public the gore that they wanted. One editor's dictum, for instance, was 'More blood, much more blood'! One of the Penny Blood writers was George Augustus Sala, one of my favourite Victorians - I have a Spy print on my wall of him - and another was Edward Bulwer-Lytton whose 'Eugene Alam' was also a full-length novel about a Georgian murderer.

A very early contribution was 'The Adventures of Susan Hopley, or Circumstantial Evidence' of 1841 in which the heroine solves a murder and then there was 'The Female Detective' and 'Revelations of a Female Detective' by Andrew Forrester and WS Hayward, both books starring a professional heroine who was employed purely to solve crimes. The public interest in murder was at its height and they devoured such offerings.

The so-called sensation novels followed with Wilkie Collins leading the way, Charles Dickens put his two-pennorth in as he picked up on Inspector Field, the head of the newly formed Detective Branch, and parodied him as Inspector Wield and he also wrote 'On Duty with Inspector Field' in his magazine 'Household Words'.

The detective came to the fore with Wilkie Collins, again, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon of whose novels 'Punch' reported, 'Harrowing the Mind, making the Flesh Creep, Causing the Hair to Stand on end, Giving Shocks to the Nervous System ... and generally, Unfitting the Public for the Prosaic Avocations of Life.'

And accompanying all this was the forensic element of crime before the so-called Golden Age came along with the likes of Agatha Christie, known as The Duchess of Death' in America, Dorothy L Sayers and Margery Allingham who were leading the way. There were, of course, many others so much so that it inspired the American critic Edmund Wilson to write two articles in the 'New Yorker' entitled ''Why Do People Read Detective Stories' and 'Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?'

The public did not like Wilson's assessments and he received hundreds of letters berating him for his lack of discernment over the lady authors. He tried Dorothy L Sayers with 'The Nine Tailors', which did not help the situation because he began his critique with 'One of the dullest books I have ever encountered in any field.' But for a man who I do admire for his assessment elsewhere of 'Lord of the Rings' as 'juvenile trash' - and something I cannot raise any enthusiasm for - he did enrage the public. He tried to soften the blow by later adding, 'The spy story may perhaps only now be realising its poetic possibilities, as the admirers of Graham Greene contend ...'.

Lucy Worsley touches on the hard-boiled elements of murder with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler before she concludes, 'All through writing this book I've been worried about being too flippant about murder. It's not all good clean fun. There is horror here, and tragedy, beneath the puppetry and pageantry. But among the gore and horror, we've also glanced aside at the history of literature, of education, of women's place in society and of justice. Our guilty pleasures reveal a lot about who we really are ...'

Its an absorbing read and it does exactly that and there is no doubt that crime as a art in fiction will long live on and as she ends, it is possible that 'a historian of the future will probably turn, not to blue books and statistics, but to detective stories'. And it is also possible that the world could be a better, certainly a more interesting place if that were so!
Profile Image for Harry (otherworldsthanthese).
158 reviews193 followers
January 13, 2022
Lucy Worsley's A Very British Murder is an incredible insight into the British people's obsession with the macabre, and it held my attention throughout. However, I think that Worsley's documentary of the same name is a more enjoyable way of accessing the information and topics discussed.
Profile Image for Anna.
246 reviews61 followers
February 28, 2021

An entertaining, well-written and well-structured exploration of the interest in murder which has been prevalent in the British for the last couple of centuries. The book mainly concentrates on the period from the beginning of the XIX century to the Golden age of detective fiction, not really mapping out how the detective novel has changed since then. However, as an introduction to the topic this is a very worthy read. The subject matter itself is not groundbreaking or perspective-changing but interesting nevertheless if you have a fondness for detective fiction as I do.
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