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American crime fiction  Australian crime fiction.
Brian Stoddart  Chris Nickson  Christopher Fowler   Cosy Crime
Derek Raymond  
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English crime fiction   English noir
Gary Donnelly   Harlan Coben     IR
ish crime fiction  
James Lee Burke   James Oswald   Jim Kelly  
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Jonathan Kellerman   London   Mark Billingham
MJ Trow   Murder   Nick Oldham   Peter Bartram  
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Peter Temple   Phil Rickman   Philip Kerr  
Police Procedural   Psycholgical thriller
 
Rob Parker    Scottish crime fiction  Southern Noir  
Stacey Halls   Ted Lewis    True crime
Val Mcdermid    Victorian   WW1   WW2 

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CRIME FOR THE COGNISCENTI!

WELCOME TO FULLY BOOKED! If you are a fan of crime writing – old, new, true or fiction – you should find something to entertain you here. Among the regular features will be a focus on real life crimes, both in the UK and further afield, the classic fiction of The Golden Age, and the latest new releases from top authors and publishers. You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook by clicking the buttons.

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THE BLOOD COVENANT . . . Between the covers

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One of my sons was at Leeds University, and my impression of the city during visits either to move house or to bring food and supplies, was of a place very much sure of itself, embracing the past while relishing a vibrant future. But this was largely Headingly, the university quarter, full of bookshops, trendy cafes and largely peopled by the offspring of comfortable middle class people like me and my wife.

TBCChris Nickson’s Leeds is a very different place. In the Tom Harper novels (click link) and in this,  the latest account of the career of Simon Westow, thief-taker, things are very, very different. This is Georgian England (1823, in this case) and Westow – in an age before a regular police force – earns his living recovering stolen property, for a percentage of its value. He has no judicial authority, save that of his quick wits, his fists and- occasionally – his knife. Recovering from a debilitating illness, Westow is back on the streets, and is juggling with several different investigations. A man has been hauled out of the river. His throat has been fatally slashed, and one of his hands has been hacked off. His brother hires Westow to answer ‘who?’ and ‘why?’.

A rich and powerful Leeds entrepreneur called Arden sets Westow the task of recovering a pair of valuable candlesticks, stolen from his son. But when the investigation is concluded, all too easily, Westow is forced to wonder if he is not being used as a dupe in some larger scheme. To add to his workload, Westow sets out to avenge the deaths of two lads, apparently starved then beaten to death by brutal overseers at a Leeds factory owned by a mysterious man named Seaton.

Westow’s assistant is a deceptively fragile young woman called Jane. Raped by her father and then thrown out on the street by her mother, she has learned to survive by cunning – and a fatal ability to use a knife, without a second thought, or her dreams being haunted by her victims. She has, to some extent, ‘come in from the cold’ as she no longer lives on the street, but with an elderly lady of infinite kindness.

As Leeds is cut off from the rest of the world by deep snow, there are more deaths, but few answers. The only thing that is clear in Westow’s mind is that there is that – for whatever reason – a blood covenant exists between Arden and Seaton. Two rich and powerful men who have the rudimentary criminal justice system within Leeds at their beck and call. Two men who want ruin – and death – to come to Westow and those he loves.

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Before we reach a terrifying finale at a remote farm in the hills beyond Leeds, Nickson demonstrates why he is such a good – and impassioned – novelist. He burns with an anger at the decades of of injustice, hardship and misery inflicted on working people by the men who built industrial Leeds, and made their fortunes on the broken bodies of the poor strugglers who lived such dark lives in the insanitary terraces that clustered around the mills and foundries. In terms of modern politics, Chris Nickson and I are worlds apart and there is, of course, a separate debate to be had about the long term effects of the industrial  revolution, but it would be a callous person who could remain unmoved by the accounts of the human wreckage caused by the huge technological upheavals of the 18th and 19th centuries.

There is. of course, a noble tradition of writers who exposed social injustice nearer to their own times – Charles Dickens, Charles Kingsley, Robert Tressell and John Steinbeck, to name but a few, but we shouldn’t dismiss Nickson’s anger because of the distance between his books and the events he describes. As he walks the streets of modern Leeds, he clearly feels every pang of hunger, every indignity, every broken bone and every hopeless dawn experienced by the people whose blood and sweat made the city what it is today. That he can express this while also writing a bloody good crime novel is the reason why he is, in my opinion, one of our finest contemporary writers. The Blood Covenant is published by Severn House and is out now.

ON MY SHELF . . . January 2022

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TS Eliot thought that April was the cruelest month, but I reckon he was wrong. I’ll go for January, every time. The joys of Christmas are reduced to a few deflated plastic Santas, only the last dregs of that litre bottle of Baileys remain and – for some – a reckoning with a credit card provider awaits. Yes, the days are getting longer, by tiny increments, but the metaphorical rebirth that Spring brings seems an age away. Thank God, then, for books. I am grateful to publishers and publicists for these arrivals:

THE LENSKY CONNECTION by Conrad Delacroix

This political thriller is set in the uncertain days of post communist Russia, when the old certainties – grim as they were – were being replaced by a power struggle between oligarchs, gangsters, and those who hedged their bets as to which new power group was most likely to succeed. Major Valery Grosky is a Federal Security Bureau officer fighting organised crime, but when he is pulled off normal duties to build a case against one of the oligarchs, he finds links that run between the most powerful politicians in both Russia and America. This dangerous knowledge plunges Grosky into a fight to save not only his career – but his life. The Lensky Connection is published by Matador, and is available now.

HIVE by April Doyle

There can’t be too many books where bees are the main characters. I seem to remember that in A Slight Trick of The Mind, a Sherlock Holmes homage from Mitch Culln, bees played a pivotal part, but this novel is centred on a criminal conspiracy involving the death of bee colonies and the attempts of a research entomologist Dr Annie Abrams to prevent an ecological disaster. To enter a prize draw to win a copy of the book, go to April Doyle’s Twitter page which is @aprilcdoyle. This will be out on 28th January and is published by The Book Guild.

THE DIGNITY OF SILENCE by June Felton

This book begins in the turmoil of Prague in 1942, where the every breath taken and every move made by the Czech people are controlled by their Nazi masters.  Ernst – and his daughter – have managed to escape to London, but the ensuing years only enhance the sense of guilt he feels, and when he finally returns to the city of his youth, old grievances and bitter memories threaten his sense of himself, and what he once was. Also published by The Book Guild, The Dignity of Silence is out now.

ONE STEP TOO FAR by Lisa Gardner

Sometimes, being a book reviewer feels like wading through a fierce, tugging torrent of flood water. Make a wrong step, and you are done for. Fortunately, there are some authors who provide rock-solid and reliable stepping stones, and Lisa Gardner is one such. Her latest novel is the second in the Frankie Elkin series, following on from Before She Disappeared. You can read my review of that here, but now Frankie returns to discover the truth about a young man who disappeared years ago during a stag weekend. As Frankie and the missing man’s friends try to retrace his steps, they are unaware that they are heading into deep trouble.  This is a Penguin book, and will be published on 20th January. (The cover image is the proof copy)

A FATAL CROSSING by Tom Hindle

This debut novel is set on a transatlantic liner travelling to New York in 1924.  The Endeavour has 2,000 passengers – and a killer – on board, as well as James Temple, a dtermined Scotland Yard inspector. When an elderly gentleman is found dead at the foot of a staircase, ship’s officer Timothy Birch is ready to declare it a tragic accident. But Temple is certain there is more to this misfortune than meets the eye. This is a must for those who like period CriFi and locked room – albeit of a nautical kind – mysteries. Published by Penguin, A Fatal Crossing will be on the shelves from 20th January. Originally from Leeds, Tom Hindle now lives in Oxfordshire, where he lives with his fiancée. He is Inspired by masters of the crime genre, from Agatha Christie to Anthony Horowitz.

CITY OF THE DEAD by Jonathan Kellerman

I don’t know why I should term this “a confession”, but I absolutely love the Alex Delaware/Milo Sturgis novels. More erudite reviewers than I might scoff and summon up metaphors of comfortable slippers and cardigans, but they can go forth and multiply. Yes, there is a formula. Yes there are a several well-worn-grooves, like Milo’s gayness, his gluttony, Alex Delaware’s girfriend’s luthier skills, and the ever-present bloody dog, but the books are superbly written, and Kellerman deserves all the success that comes his way. Here, a corpse discovered almost by accident in a wealthy LA suburb proves to be a professional colleague of Alex, and the case takes on a disturbing – and deeply dangerous aspect. This is also from Penguin, but you will have to wait until 17th February to get your hands on a copy.

AND ON MY KINDLE

TBC KIndleA new book from Chris Nickson is always a joy, even if the times and circumstances he writes about are seldom a cause for celebration. His cerebral connection with the downtrodden and exploited people who once walked the streets of his native Leeds is almost tangible, and here his words burn white hot as his Georgian thief taker – Simon Westow – becomes involved in several cases at once. He is determined to avenge two boys brutalised in a local mill, while also trying to solve the mystery of a corpse dragged from the local river, throat cut and minus a hand. All this while unwillingly coming to the attention of one of the richest – and most dangerous men in the city. Expect another star turn from the enigmatic – but deadly – assassin known only as Jane, as a ghost from her past threatens to disturb her fragile equilibrium. The Blood Covenant is from Severn House and is available now. Regular visitors to Fully Booked will know I am a great admirer of Chris Nickson. My thoughts on his books are here.

FOUR MORE ANGELS IN HEAVEN TONIGHT . . . The Wimblington Tragedy (2)

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SO FAR – It is February 1896, and Mary Jane Farnham has moved back to Wimblington following the death of her husband, Henry, a former Stationmaster in Essex. She has five children, but is  comfortably provided for, thanks to savings, insurance and a pension from the Railway Benevolent Fund. She and the children have rented a roomy cottage, not far from Wimblington railway station. The children are universally liked, and she is regarded as a quiet and respectable woman. She and the four younger children – Lucilla, aged 12, is in service with a family in nearby March – are regular church-goers. But something is very wrong. She has mentioned to her parents that the strain of being alone troubles her. Her words were later quoted in the press:

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It can have been no comfort to Mary Jane Farnham to be living within sight and sound of Wimblington railway station, and it must have been a daily reminder of better days, when she and her husband lived in a similar building, were pillars of the community, and with their whole lives ahead of them.

I have been researching and writing these true crime stories for many years, and I can truthfully say that none of the human tragedies I have investigated comes close to this one in terms of loss and despair. The Farnhams were last seen alive at some time on Saturday 15th February. It needs to be remembered that communities were much smaller and ‘in-each-other’s-pockets’ in those days, and the comings and goings of villagers in a place like Wimblington were very public. Bit by bit, villagers suspected that something was wrong.

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What the Peacock brothers and the village policeman found in the upstairs bedrooms would probably haunt them for the rest of their lives. Marjorie May, 11, Sidney Harold, 8, Henrietta Mary, 6, and Dorothy Esther, 4, were dead in their beds, killed while they slept, and their throats cut so deeply that their heads were nearly severed. Beside them was the body of their mother, a white handled knife, savagely sharp, in her dead hand. The bedsheets around the bodies were saturated with blood. It was.literally, a bloodbath.

This was no spur of the moment act of desperation by Mary Jane Farnham. On a table in the house was an envelope containing the outstanding rent on the cottage. Even more chilling, It was later revealed that she had sent a letter to the Railway Benevolent Fund requesting that her widow’s pension be terminated. This mixture of propriety and savagery is hard to comprehend, even though a century and more has passed.

The inquest verdict on the five dead was a formality – murder and suicide while temporarily insane. To the eternal credit of the community, Mary Jane Farnham was not separated from her children even in death, and their joint funeral, just seven days after their deaths, attracted widespread attention. 

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This remarkable photograph of the funeral is used with permission of its owners, the Fisher Parkinson Trust, a local heritage archive.

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These accounts of man’s inhumanity to man are not intended as judgments, or condemnations, but it is difficult to balance out sympathy for Mary Jane Farnham’s grief and the sheer inhumanity she showed when she cut the throats of her four younger children. They all had lives to lead, as we can see by following the progress of Lucilla, the daughter who was lucky enough to be elsewhere on that fateful Saturday night in February 1896. By 1901, she was living in Leeds with her aunt, working as a draper’s assistant, by 1911 she had moved to Bournemouth, and  in 1917 the records tell us that she married Daniel Meaney in Exeter. She died in 1968 at the age 0f 86.

Judgement is for God alone, so I conclude this sad tale with a picture taken in the churchyard at Wimblington. (NB – the ages of the two younger children are incorrectly inscribed)

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FOUR MORE ANGELS IN HEAVEN TONIGHT . . . The Wimblington Tragedy (1)

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Mary Jane Peacock was born, some registers say, in Upwell in 1855, but the 1861 census says that she was born in Wimblington, and shows her living there with her parents.

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Screen Shot 2022-01-04 at 20.28.32Her father was John Peacock, who kept The Cock Inn on Eastwood End. In the autumn of 1877, she married Henry Farnham, who worked for The Great Eastern Railway. He became the Stationmaster at Takeley, (left) a station on the Bishops Stortford – Braintree line. The Stationmaster’s house was substantial, and survives to this day, (although the line it once served has long since disappeared. The 1891 census seems to show the Farnhams – still living at Takeley – as a happy and prosperous family which included Lucella (8), Marjorie (6), Sidney (3) and Henrietta (3 months).

Takeley

Then, in 1893, the family welcomed another child – Dorothy – but within months tragedy struck. Henry Farnham died of “congestion of the lungs’ which sounds like pneumonia. The family were immensely well thought-of in the area. A newspaper reported:

“The family, were always held the very highest respect, and had the sympathy of all classes in the neighbourhood ou the death of the father, which led to their removal from the village. The late Mr. Farnham came to Takeley station-master from his native fen country about years ago, bringing with him his newly wedded bride. He had formerly held similar position on the G.E.R. at Wilburton. Mr. and Mrs. Farnham made many friends and were regarded as exemplary couple. He was a man that nobody could help liking— the most amiable and obliging man ever met with the railway service. He was held much esteem the Earl and Countess Warwick, who used the station frequently while residing at Easton, and H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, when making visits to Easton Lodge, always had cheery word to say to Farnham, and when, after the station master’s death, subscription was set on foot for the widow and family, his Royal Highness gave handsomely towards it, as also did the Earl and Countess of Warwick, Sir Walter Gilbey, and other residents of the neighbourhood.

Mr. and Mrs. Farnham were thrifty people, and despite the expense of bringing up young family they had put away for future use a nice little sum, which with £100 that the widow received from an insurance company upon the death of her husband, and about £80 which was subscribed for them locally, and various benefit club payments, amounted something like £400. The Great Eastern Railway Company allowed her £10 a year for life.”

No-one who attended Henry Farnham’s funeral could have possibly predicted an even greater tragedy which was to follow

In the autumn of 1895, Mary Jane Farnham moved back to Wimblington with her children, and settled in what was described as a comfortable four roomed cottage situated near the station, rented from a Mr Fisher. February 1896 was to witness an event which sent shockwaves, not just across Fenland, but throughout Britain

IN PART TWO – A HEARTBREAKING DISCOVERY

SNOW AND STEEL . . . Between the covers

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I thought it was high time I included some non-fiction reviews. I am a keen (amateur) military historian, so I am happy to start this little adventure into the unknown by reviewing a superb history, written by Peter Caddick-Adams, of one of the bloodiest battles of WW2. I was going to use the word ‘decisive’, but that would be inappropriate as it suggests that the outcome of the Battle of The Bulge, which began in December 1944. was a pivotal point in the war. It wasn’t. Hitler’s war was already lost, mainly thanks his disastrous attempt to invade Russia.

SAS coverBy the autumn of 1944, German forces had been pushed out of France and were being systematically overwhelmed by the Red Army in the east. The allies had control of the Channel coast, but the Germans had effectively wrecked the French ports. Antwerp, however, had been taken more or less intact, and when the Germans had been removed from their strong-points controlling the estuary of the River Scheldt, the Belgian port became a massive conduit for the arrival of men, machines and supplies for the Allies.

Hitler believed that if he could reach Antwerp and choke the Allies’ massive superiority in materiel, he could somehow wrench victory from the jaws of defeat. Caddick-Adams tells a tale as tense and addictive as any murder mystery. Let’s look at the three main ingredients of such tales:

Motive; in the east, the Russians were just too many, too implacable, and too powerful, so Hitler needed a win – somewhere, anywhere.

Opportunity; the largely American forces in the Ardennes area were a mixture of battle-hardened veterans who has stormed the Normandy beaches on 6th June, and more callow units. Some had been battered and bloodied by the savage fighting in the Hurtgen Forest earlier that year. For a first hand account of that battle seen through the eyes of JD Salinger, click this link. None of these American units were expecting anything other than a steady but remorseless slog eastwards until they crossed the Rhine, until they were able to beard the Fuhrer in his den.

Means? Aye, there’s the rub.  Caddick-Adams explains that the cream of the German army had already been wiped out on the undulating fields of Normandy and bleaker killing grounds of East Prussia. The Werhmacht – comprising its three branches of land, sea and air forces – was on its uppers. To boost the forces attempting to storm their way across Belgium and recapture Antwerp, navy men from the Kriegsmarine and ground-crew from the Luftwaffe were given a helmet and a gun, and pitched against American forces.

Screen Shot 2022-01-01 at 09.41.39It is one of the great paradoxes of WW2 that on the ground, at least, the Germans had the best guns, the best artillery and the best tanks. The problem was that although the formidable Panzers were easily able to overcome the relatively underpowered Sherman tanks used by the allies, the German vehicles were high maintenance and, some would say, over-engineered. The ubiquitous Shermans were rolling off the production lines in their thousands, while the formidable Tigers and Panthers – when they developed a fault – were fiendishly difficult to repair or cannibalise. Caddick-Adams (right) also reminds us how well-fed and supplied the American GIs were compared with their German foes. In one particularly eloquent passage, he tells us of the utter joy felt by a unit of Volksgrenadiers when they seized a supply of American rations. When their own kitchen unit eventually reached their position, the cooks and their containers of watery stew were given very short shrift.

Snow and Steel covers ground familiar to many amateur historians – the Malmedy Massacre, the heroic defence of Bastogne, and Hitler’s manic distrust of his generals, amplified by the Stauffenberg plot. The eventual outcome of this battle is a matter of history so, although his narrative is as good as any found in contemporary thrillers of mysteries, Caddick-Adams knows we expect no surprises. What he gives us, however, is what used to be called (in the age of vinyl) a double A-side. We have a brilliant, methodical and comprehensive account of a battle where we get to see both the strategic and tactical implications of a military campaign. Flip the metaphorical record over, and we have a vivid account of a battle as seen by men who were there, told in their own words, and thus made even more chilling through its immediacy. Snow and Steel is published by Arrow and is available here.

THE OXFORD STREET ATROCITY . . . Murder most foul in Leamington, 1907 (part two)

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SO FAR: On the night of Saturday 3rd March 1907, In a drink-fueled fit of rage, 33 year-old Edwin James Moore has set his mother on fire at their home, 13 Oxford Street. She is pronounced dead at the scene.

While the doctor, police, neighbours and the other members of the Moore family crowded into 13 Oxford Street, what had become of the central character in this drama, Edwin James Moore? With skin hanging from his hands and arms after trying – and failing – to extinguish the flames that killed his mother, he was taken by one of the neighbours to a nearby chemist to have his burns dressed, but it was clear the damage was severe, and he was taken to the Warneford Hospital, was treated further treated for his wounds and kept in overnight.

In the drama of the moment, the cries of young Bertie Moore (“Help! Murder!”) had been temporarily disregarded, and it was assumed that there had been a terrible accident, but when the proverbial dust settled and Police Sergeant Rainbow spoke to the distressed child, it was clear that Fanny Moore’s death was something other than a misfortune. On the Sunday morning, Rainbow visited Edwin Moore in hospital, and put it to him that he had killed his mother. Moore replied, indignantly:

“No, never. I tried to put out the fire and burnt my coat in doing it.”

Despite his denial, Moore was arrested and appeared before Leamington magistrates, where he continued to deny that he had caused his mother’s death. The magistrates were unconvinced, and sent him to be tried at the next Warwick Assizes on a charge of wilful murder. Meanwhile, the Moore family had a final melancholy duty to perform.

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The County Assizes were a major civic event. The Great and the Good put on their best finery to celebrate this most emphatic and visible reminder to the common folk that British justice was a solemn affair, and those who fell foul of it were in a very dark place indeed. The local paper reported:

WARWICKSHIRE WINTER ASSIZES. The Warwickshire Winter Assizes were opened at the Shire Hall, Warwick, Friday morning, before Mr. Justice Phillimore. His Lordship arrived in the town on Thursday afternoon, and was met by the High Sheriff (Sir William Jaffray) and the Sheriff’s Chaplain (the Rev. J. Thompson;. GRAND JURY: the following were sworn upon the Grand Jury : Lord Algernon Percy foreman), Mr. H. Lakin, Mr F. E. Muntz, Major F. Hood Gregory, Capt. F. Gerard, Mr. D. S. Greig, Mr. F. Stanger Leathes, Major H. Chesshyre Molyneus, Major Gibsone, Major Armstrong, Mr A. Kay,   Mr R. W. Lindsay, .Mr A. Sabin Smith, Mr. J. Booth, Mr. W. E. Everitt,  G Anson-Yeld, Mr. E. C. Gray-Hatherell, Mr. A. Batchelor, Mr. Savory, Mr. P. S. Danby, Mr. S. Flavel and Captain K. Oliver-Bellasis.” 

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Percy, Lakin, Flavel – just three names that still resonate locally today, and several others who, if you Google them, remain clearly at the heart of the British establishment more than a century after they convened to decide the fate of Edwin James Moore. It is pointless to speculate whether a rough former soldier was ever going to get the benefit of the doubt after being accused of murdering the woman who brought him into the world and watched over him during his childhood. The jury system in 1907 was what it was. The trial was very brief, and on Monday 11th March Mr Justice Phillimore had little hesitation when he instructed the jury, who found Moore guilty of murder. Phillimore (left) donned the symbolic black cap, and sent Edwin James Moore back to his gloomy cell in Warwick Prison on Cape Road (below) to await the visit of the hangman.
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In an age when the wheels of justice turned extremely slowly, the downfall of Edwin James Moore was extremely swift. By my reckoning, the interval between that fateful Saturday night and his death  on the morning of 6th April, at the hands of (below, with newspaper report) John Ellis – whose day job was a newsagent and hairdresser in Rochdale – was just thirty-three days. To borrow the obligatory final words of the sentencing judge, “May God have mercy on his soul.”

The End

THE OXFORD STREET ATROCITY . . . Murder most foul in Leamington, 1907 (part one)

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13 Oxford StreetNumber 13 Oxford Street is a narrow three-story terraced house used these days, I believe, for student accommodation. It was advertised recently as a six bedroom let, a snip (!) at £3,360 pcm. The Bank of England inflation calculator tells me that in 1891, Edward Moore and his family would have been paying just under £26 a month. He had a large family comprising his wife Fanny Adelaide (36) and children Edwin James Moore (16), Fanny A Moore (14), William A Moore (13), Joseph C Moore (11), Rose Hannah Moore (10), Percy E Moore (8), Leonard J Moore (7) and Ernest F Moore (4).

Edward Moore was a cab-driver – horse drawn in those days, of course – and what became of seven of his eight children is a fascinating investigation for another day, but our story focuses on Edwin James Moore and, to a lesser extent, his youngest brother Ernest Moore, known as Bertie. Born in 1875, Edwin Moore appears to have become the black sheep of the family. Court records tell us that he had served time in prison for stealing potatoes, and between 1903 and 1906 had been convicted of minor offences such as drunkenness, using foul language and assault.

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It also seems he had found time to join the army, and had served in India, but in the spring of 1907, this prodigal son was back in Leamington. On the evening of Saturday 3nd March, at about 8.00p, Moore returned to the family home, the worse for drink. The only people in the house were his mother and brother Bertie, by then aged eleven. Mrs Moore has been cooking Edwin’s supper – herrings – in the oven, and she put the plate in front of him on the table. He was far from impressed. Complaining that the fish was “stinking the place out”, he first pushed the plate aside and then flung it to the floor, where it shattered. He kicked the broken pieces of pottery and the remains of his dinner across the kitchen, and in his rage, picked up a nearby oil lamp and hurled it at his mother. She fended off the lamp, and it broke against the wall, bursting into flames. Mrs Moore made to escape, but her son snatched a piece of newspaper from the table, twisted it into a spill, lit it from the burning oil lamp and having seized his mother by the arm thrust it like a sword at her body. Her flanelette blouse immediately caught fire, and she rushed into the scullery to try to put out the flames with tap water.

Young Bertie, understandably terrified by what he had seen, ran to the door and screamed “Help! Murder! He’s setting my mother on fire!” Neighbours Henry Beeby and a Mr Phillips rushed into the house, and saw Edwin Moore flapping at the flames that were devouring his mother’s upper body with his bare hands. Beeby managed to put out the flames and, having been cursed at and struck by Edwin Moore, later testified that the younger man ran from the house. Fanny Adelaide Moore was beyond help, however, and was pronounced dead when medical help arrived in the person of Dr Bernard Rice, who later carried out a post-mortem on the poor woman. His findings were reported in The Leamington Spa Courier.

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IN PART TWO – ARREST, TRIAL AND SWIFT RETRIBUTION

LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEN . . . An appreciation of Arthur Bryant & John May

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The origin of those six words is a biblical text, chapter 44 of Ecclesiasticus, a book of the bible which, for Protestants, was shunted off the mainline into the sidings of The Apocrypha. The first ten lines of the chapter are:

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Aficionados of Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May series, which ended on the final page of London Bridge is Falling Down will know that some of the lines written by the  biblical scholar  – a chap called Sira, apparently – are more applicable to Arthur and John than others. “Leaders of the people by their counsels..”? The pair, especially in the autumn of their careers certainly led the Peculiar Crimes Unit “by their counsels” in spite of the efforts of the nominal boss, the hapless Raymond Land and the myriad civil servants who sought to sink the unit and all who sailed in her.

I think we move on fairly quickly from “Such as found out musical tunes and recited verses in writing..” as neither was particularly musical, but Arthur did occasionally recite verses, usually in the form of riddles that baffled everyone else. “Rich men furnished with ability …“? John could always afford a decent suit, but what Arthur did with his salary is anyone’s guess. His disregard for sartorial elegance and the modest accommodation provided by his long-suffering Antiguan landlady, Alma Sorrowbridge suggested that he spent little on worldly concerns. As for “living peaceably“, John was always something of a conciliator, but Arthur had a savage tongue, particularly when faced with jobsworths or obstructive administrators. It has to be said, though, that his barbs were usually so shrouded in classical allusion that the victims were seldom bright enough to know they were being insulted.

Sadly, except by Janice, Colin, Meera and the rest of the PCU, Arthur and John were far from “honoured in their generations..” let alone becoming “the glory of their times.” In terms of the miserable bureaucrats who hated the very thought of the Peculiar Crimes Unit, then Arthur and John are almost certainly “perished as though they had never been..“, but for the of thousands of grateful readers, people who loved the sounds and smells of hidden London, appreciated the jokes, saw the torch of such great writers as the Grossmiths, Betjeman and PM Hubbard being carried brightly forward, chuckled quietly at the nostalgic product placing contained in the depths of Arthur’s coat pockets, and shared the poignancy of those moments when the two old gentlemen gazed down at the river from their special place, Waterloo Bridge – the final eleven words of the biblical quote will resonate as long as there are books to be read, jokes to be shared and dreams to be dreamed.

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MURDER COMES TO LADBROKE (2) . . . True crime from 1926

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Cinema

CecilSO FAR – On January 13th 1926, Milly Crabtree, 25 year-old wife of Cecl Crabtree, is found battered to death at their home, Manor Farm in Ladbroke. 19 year-old George Sharpes is arrested for her murder. As is the way with these, things, the wheels of justice turn very slowly, and it was February before Sharpes came to face magistrates in Southam. The courtroom, normally used as a cinema (pictured above), was packed, and the onlookers were spellbound as a confession from George Sharpes was read to the court.

I, George Sharpes, here wish to state how and why I murdered the deceased Mrs. Crabtree. On Wednesday morning, January 13th, the day I committed the crime, I went to work in the house about 9 a.m. The job I was doing was scraping paint off a skirting board. While I was sitting doing work, a thought entered my head to kill the deceased. Several ways entered my head, how to kill her, but in my mind I did not think these ways would have been successful So I let this thought keep on worrying me until dinner-time. When I went home it seemed to out of my mind all together.

When I came back in the afternoon the same thought came to me. This time I was working with a hammer, drawing nails out of the window. Then I came to a big nail just above the window and near to the door, the one which is opposite the front room door. Meanwhile the deceased had been past me on two occasions. The third time as she was coming past me I struck her on the side of the head and she fell down in the passage. Here I struck her again, and then I dragged her into the front room. When I came out I saw some blood on the floor, I took off my cap, cleaned up the mess, and threw my cap in the fire grate in the dining room. Then I went into the front room, and struck her again.

I seized pair of pyjamas and wrapped them round her head to stop her noise. The next thought that came to me was to do away with myself, so I went to look for a knife or a razor. As I was going through, the dining room, I passed the cowman’s daughter and she noticed that there was blood on hands. Then I went to Mr. Crabtree’s bench and there I found a knife. I then went upstairs and cut my throat. Even this did not kill me, so I tried again. Seeing this did not do it, I looked everywhere for a razor, but it was of no avail. As I was walking round I noticed a bottle labelled Camphorated Oil, Poison. I drank some of this, thinking it would bring me to a quick end. This made me feel faint, so I went back into Mr Crabtree’s bedroom. I knew that someone would find me, so I lay there.

This bizarre statement continued with what appeared to be a motive for the attack:

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MotherThe magistrates wasted little time in stating that George Sharpes had a serious case to answer, and the case was moved on to be examined at the March Assizes in Warwick. The case was presided over by Mr Justice Shearman. The only possible line for the defence to take was that Sharpes was insane at the time at the time he committed the murder, and Sharpes’s mother was produced to state that her son had suffered an unfortunate childhood. Her pleas fell on deaf ears, however. Rejecting the claims that George Sharpes was insane, the judge donned the black cap and sentenced him to death. The execution was fixed for April and, as was almost always the case, a petition was set up to ask for clemency. The case was taken to appeal, in front of Lord Chief Justice Avory, who was perhaps not the most welcome choice for Sharpes’s defence team. Avory, a notorious “hanging judge”, had been memorably described:
“Thin-lipped, cold, utterly unemotional, silent, and humourless, and relentless towards lying witnesses and brutal criminals”.

Final words

Avory dismissed the appeal, and George Sharpes, just turned 20 years od age, was hanged in Winson Green prison on 13th April 1926. The hangman was William Willis, assisted by Robert Baxter. As was customary, Sharpes was interred in the graveyard inside Winson Green prison. His burial plot was unmarked, but the location was recorded in prison records. As for his victim, she lies, one hopes at peace,  in a quiet corner of Ladbroke churchyard. Thanks to Maggy Smith for the photos.

Milly grave

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