Book Reviews

The Maul and the Pear Tree: The Ratcliffe Highway Murders 1811 by P. D. James

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List Price: £4.68


Kindle Edition: 403 Pages.

Published: 15 December 2011 by Faber & Faber

Edition: New Ed



In 1811 John Williams was buried with a stake in his heart. Was he the notorious East End killer or his eighth victim in the bizarre and shocking Ratcliffe Highway Murders? In this vivid and gripping reconstruction P. D. James and police historian T. A. Critchley draw on forensics, public records, newspaper clippings and hitherto unpublished sources, expertly sifting the evidence to shed new light on this infamous Wapping mystery.

This true crime novel begins amid the horror of a dark, wintry London in the year 1811. Using elegant historical detection P.D. James and police historian T.A. Critchley piece together new and unpublished sources in an original portrayal of the Ratcliffe Highway Murders.


5.0 Stars5.0 Stars5.0 Stars5.0 Stars5.0 Stars  by Anne

An excellent piece of social history

This is an excellent piece of social history combined with a true crime story. In 1811 two murders were committed in the dock area of London which are known as the Ratcliffe Highway murders. Although someone was convicted of them it has never been clear who the murderer was. This book explains the social conditions of the time by exploring the background of those who are murdered and following the investigations into the crime.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I like a good book of social history and this crime was a good way to enlighten me about various things happening in London at the time. The authors

firstly look at the docks were, how people lived, and what general conditions were like as shown by the victims, witnesses and suspects. They then move on to policing at the time - in fact, the total lack of it and the various people that had a responsibility to undertake this work and what their limitations were (both personal and professional). The book then examines the crime and its evidence and looks at all the people suspected of committing the murder and their background. The climax (in a gruesome way) is the arrest of the chief suspect and what happens to him in custody and at the hands of the public.

By using the crime as its focus this book can examine in quite a short narrative a lot of things and it does this in an entertaining and informative way. This is very much a book of social history rather than a true crime book and although it doesn't pretend to be an academic book it leans more in that direction than it does towards the sensational. It makes no particular judgement about the perpetrator of the crime but points out lots of possible alternatives. I found it very readable and full of interesting snippets of information about how people lived and worked - I also got to find out what a maul is !

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