I’m not sure if this is the case worldwide, but here in the UK, we have an interesting fascination with crime and murder. From recreations of infamous murders on stage to the bestselling mystery novels inspired by real cases we can’t seem to get enough.
For example, on my one and only trip to London, we spent one day in Whitechapel and maybe it’s because we were in the touristy part but almost every wall had at least three different posters for Jack the Ripper Tours.
A Very British Murder by Historian Lucy Worsley dives deep into the origin of this national obsession.
I like to think I am pretty well versed when it comes to historic crime but I was surprised by some of the facts I learned while reading. For instance, Nancy from Oliver Twist was based on a real woman, a prostitute named Eliza Grimwood.
Like her fictional counterpart, she was brutally murdered but the man suspected of killing her got away with it. Hence why Dickens really made sure that Bill Sikes got his comeuppance.
Also, puppets are freaky enough for me but now I found out that those Punch and Judy style puppet shows originally were for adults in the Victorian period and they would perform dramatisations of the latest ‘popular’ murders. Some even had little strings that when pulled drew ‘blood’ from the stabbed area.
Despite the subject matter, Worsley has written her book in such a straightforward way that it is a rather easy read yet very interesting. I suspect the reason I finished it in about a week was that I avoided putting it down. It’s one of those books that once it’s got you hooked, it will not let you go until the last page.
A Very British Murder is split into three parts How to Enjoy a Murder, Enter the Detective and The Golden Age. Each section focuses on a certain topic but crimes and notable figures are often brought up again. The end of each chapter links up with the beginning of the next, making you want to continue.
Throughout the book, Worsley discusses famous crime novelists, their work as well as their own lives. Some I already knew such as Agatha Christie who is one of my favourite crime writers, though a touch problematic as I have mentioned before but quite a few I had not. Since finishing this book I have added several of the mentioned novels to my reading list.
If you have any interest in media portrayals of crime, British culture or just looking for an interesting read you should add A Very British Murder to your book collection. It’s a killer read!