The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain Was Poisoned at Home, Work, and Play

Jenny Diski writes:

Raymond Chandler writes in ‘The Simple Art of Murder’ (1950) that ‘the English may not always be the best writers in the world, but they are incomparably the best dull writers.’ He’s specifically referring to crime novelists – the likes of Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie – in an attempt to wrest the detective story away from the English suburbs and towards the grittier (and far more romantic) novels written by himself and Dashiell Hammett. An explanation of sorts had already been offered by George Orwell. In ‘Decline of the English Murder’ (1946), he meditated on the apparent passing of the homely crime of murder as it was commonly reported in the British popular press:

Our great period in murder, our Elizabethan period, so to speak, seems to have been between roughly 1850 and 1925, and the murderers whose reputation has stood the test of time are the following: Dr Palmer of Rugeley, Jack the Ripper, Neill Cream, Mrs Maybrick, Dr Crippen, Seddon, Joseph Smith, Armstrong, and Bywaters and Thompson.

(LRB 8 July 2010)

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