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The Maul and the Pear Tree: The Ratcliffe Highway Murders, 1811. P.D. James and T.A. Critchley [Paperback]

P. D. James
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating True Murder Mystery June 9 2012
By Debra Purdy Kong TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
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 find the culprit(s). As authors P.D. James and T.A. Critchley reveal in this book, law enforcement was horribly unskilled and incompetent in those days.

P.D. James's talent for detail in this nonfiction narrative vividly portrays life on Ratcliffe Highway. She also provides a clear, analytical presentation of evidence to depict what she and Critchley believe is the truth about the killers(s) identity. At times, the amount of detail and background was almost too much to wade through, and I was tempted to skip through it to get back to the main story. Yet, James portrays a time when prejudice against the Irish ran rampant and people could be arrested, tried, and convicted on flimsy evidence by today's standards. Was the wrong man convicted? Read the book. It's a fascinating story that will have you shaking your head.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Speculating Testimony May 13 2005
By RCM - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A fan of P.D. James' mysteries, I was pleasantly surprised to discover this true crime book she had written with the historian T.A. Critchley. "The Maul and the Pear Tree" tells the tale of some sinister and disturbing murders that horrified and shocked the London docks in 1811. Through recreating the time period, studying testimony and accounts of the day, both author and historian have crafted an interesting read about not only murder but also about the restrictions of a rudimentary police system in trying to apprehend an otherwise unheard of serial killer.

In December of 1811, seven people were brutally slain. The first victims were the Marr family; a husband, wife, their infant son, and the boy who worked in their shop. All were found beaten to death with their throats cut to the neckbone, including the newborn son. The second victims were the Williamsons, the proprietors of a pub, who were slain in almost exactly the same manner as the Marrs.

The search that had begun with the Marr's murders, continued when the killer struck a second time. The clues were few, but included the murder weapon alluded to in the book's title. The testimony (both real and speculative) was plentiful, and the community was filled with terror and suspicion. The magistrates had an incredible task before them - to capture a killer before he, or they, since the evidence surely represented more than one killer, could strike again.

In 1811, the different policing agencies did not work together, and very rarely shared the information they received with another branch. This combined with sketchy details, suspicious neighbors, and the number of superfluous informants who came forward with information made a virtual circus of the trial process. Arrested and jailed on circumstantial evidence, a man by the name of John Williams was assumed to be the ghastly murderer that everyone had been searching for. Yet before he could be convicted of any crime, he was found hanged in his jail cell, apparently a self-murder. Yet the evidence shows that more than one person was involved in the murders of these two families. James and Critchley lay the groundwork for who the accomplices, or even who the mastermind behind these murders, might be. The author and historian even call into question whether or not Williams was set up and murdered by the real killer in order to guarantee his own escape. The truth shall never be known about the killer's identity, but "The Maul and the Pear Tree" is a highly informative, entertaining speculation about the Radcliffe Highway Murders.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant! Feb. 24 2000
By L. Nery - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
Absolutely brilliant! At first, I wouldn't have believed so. I love true crime stories, but I thought it was a little bit presumptuous to try to solve a series of crime committed in the 1810's. But I read anyway, and it was a wonderful surprise.
First, the local color. The authors portray beautifully (and gloomily...) the city of London and the life of its inhabitants. It's also very informative - one comes to know how the English police force was first arranged, and what existed prior to that.
The characters, as we well know, are long dead, but through a series of educated guesses, psychological insight and factual information, the authors convey what was going through their minds.
P. D. James doesn't give us a final answer to the question of whom killed all those people, but she points a suspect, and by detailing her suspicions the reader is able to form his idea. Her theory is very plausible, to say the least.
In short, it's a book filled with suspense and humorous insights on the ideas and beliefs of the victorians. If you're interested in English history, famous true crime stories and whodunnits, do not miss this one.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Regency Era Murder Sensation Feb. 2 2005
By Sires - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811 were an incredible sensation in their time. The authors do a very good job of portraying a realistic look at life at the time of the killings. Whether or not the person who actually had the murders pinned on him was guilty is a question that can lead to long discussions with friends of like reading tastes. One thing I found surprising was how late people stayed up on the street in this era when street lighting was in its infancy.

I read a first edition of this book so I don't know if it has been updated to reflect some of the newer information that law enforcement has about home invasion murders as well as sadistic killers. That is the only thing I would possibly add to this very interesting history.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars absorbing on a 15 hour flight to mexico Sept. 4 1997
By sushma.rose@virgin.net - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
a detective and historic read, if you're interested in early nineteenth century london and their ways of life and also interested in murder most horrid, THEN GET YOUR CASH OUT. superbly written, flows like a flowy thing and keeps you hooked like a sharp hooky type object.if you can't get hold of it then i'll sell you mine
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating True Murder Mystery June 9 2012
By Debra Purdy Kong - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
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 find the culprit(s). As authors P.D. James and T.A. Critchley reveal in this book, law enforcement was horribly unskilled and incompetent in those days.

P.D. James's talent for detail in this nonfiction narrative vividly portrays life on Ratcliffe Highway. She also provides a clear, analytical presentation of evidence to depict what she and Critchley believe is the truth about the killers(s) identity. At times, the amount of detail and background was almost too much to wade through, and I was tempted to skip through it to get back to the main story. Yet, James portrays a time when prejudice against the Irish ran rampant and people could be arrested, tried, and convicted on flimsy evidence by today's standards. Was the wrong man convicted? Read the book. It's a fascinating story that will have you shaking your head.
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