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THE ILLUSTRATED POLICE NEWS . . . 74 years of Murder and Mayhem

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In Britain today, the print media faces an uncertain future due to the intense competition from broadcast news and the immediacy of social media. We still have, according to some, what is known as the gutter press. Depending on your political convictions, you can name your own suspects, but there are only a couple of titles which are regularly – and genuinely – idiotic. The word ‘tabloid’ has come to be a term of disdain, but we would do well to remember that it is, technically, simply a name for the format of the paper – a compact rectangular shape rather than the much larger broadsheet form, now all but extinct in weekday editions.

unknown-broadside-B20071-77While newspaper coverage of politics diminishes the further you go down the journalistic food chain, one subject that can always find the front page is crime, and in 1864, enterprising publishers decided to capitalise on the public’s long-standing fascination with violent death and despicable deeds by producing The Illustrated Police News. The title suggests that it was something authorised by the police themselves, but it was nothing of the sort. Ever since printing became a cheap and practical way of spreading information, spectacular crimes and, most of all, executions, had been sensationalised by broadsides (left) – usually a one-sided sheet with a stylised illustration and perhaps a doggerel poem, or dramatic description. These would be sold for pennies to the crowds who gathered in their hundreds to watch murderers meet their maker. The Illustrated Police News was a rather more comprehensive version of those macabre souvenirs.

Key to the paper’s success was its visual impact. Bear in mind that photographs in newspapers were very primitive until well into the 20th century, so TIPN employed artists who drew their impressions of crime scenes and victims. These would then be made into etchings or engravings and the plates would be inserted into the set type.

The “Freddy Starr ate my hamster” school of journalism has a long and distinguished heritage, Here, in a front page from 1871, we have a perfect blend of lurid sexual sadism, suicide and a disaster in the peaceful Suffolk town of Stowmarket.

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So how did TIPN treat crime cases which became nationally notorious? It had huge fun, of course, with the Whitechapel murders in 1888, and many of its illustrations have been used in books on Jack the Ripper over the years. The beauty of it, as far as TIPN was concerned, was that there was so much speculation and the police were so clueless that the artists could speculate away to their hearts’ content without fear of contradiction.

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What was to become known as The Tottenham Outrage took place on 23rd January 1909, when two Latvian anarchists ambushed a car carrying wages for factory workers in Tottenham. In the lengthy pursuit of the hijackers, a policeman was shot dead and a young boy died after being hit by a stray bullet. I have covered the incident here but, needless to say, TIPN were quickly on the case.

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Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson had been a senior member of the British high command in World War One, without ever having active service in the field. Born in Ireland, he was known to have Unionist sympathies, and when he was murdered by two IRA gunmen in 1922 TIPN, never less than patriotic, seized the moment.

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The front pages of TIPN were, of course, its main selling point, but the inside of the paper was pretty much solid reading, interspersed with occasional smaller illustrations. One of the classic full page illustrations inside the edition was in 1934 and covered what was known as The Brighton Trunk murder. A petty crook called Cecil Lewis England had adopted the name Tony Mancini, probably because it had gangsterish sound to it. He was in a relationship with a prostitute, Violette Kaye. On the 10th May she disappeared, having apparently sent a telegram to her sister in law saying that she had gone away to work in Paris. Eventually the police became suspicious and eventually discovered Kaye’s remains in a trunk owned by Mancini.

At his trial, he claimed that he had found her dead body, but concealed it, fearing he would be accused of her murder. Mancini was defended by two celebrity barristers, Quintin Hogg, better known as Lord Hailsham, and Norman Birkett, who would achieve lasting fame as the British judge at the Nuremberg trials after WW2. Astonishingly, the jury found Mancini not guilty, but In 1976 he confessed to a News of the World journalist. He explained that during a blazing row with Kaye, she had attacked him with the hammer he had used to break coal for their fire. He had wrestled the hammer from her, but when she had demanded it back, he had thrown it at her, hitting her on the left temple. A prosecution of Mancini for perjury was considered but rejected due to lack of corroboration.

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By 1938  TIPN had dramatically changed direction and had become more of a sports paper, with particular focus on racing (both horses and dogs) and football. It still had time and space, however, to report on the career of Herr Hitler. By the time Hitler plunged Europe into war in 1939 when he invaded Poland, The Illustrated Police News was itself no more, having become a victim of changing times and tastes.

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GLADYS MITCHELL . . .A writer revisited

Guest writer Stuart Radmore explores one of the lesser-known female authors of the Golden Age, and he feels that the revival of interest in her books by modern readers is justified.

Gladys Mitchell (1901 – 1983), of Scottish descent, was born in Cowley, near Oxford.  She spent much of her childhood in Brentford, Middlesex.  After taking a degree at the University of London, she taught (English, History and Games) altogether for some thirty-seven years at a variety of schools in what is now West London.

Away from her teaching life Miss Mitchell created the first notable, and still the best known, example of a psychiatrist-detective in the formidable person of Mrs (late Dame) Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, consultant psychiatrist to the Home Office.

She is sometimes extremely orthodox in her methods.  While some of her deductions allude to Freudian theory (one of the author’s many enthusiasms) she appears to obtain her results by intuition – or something more.   Elements of the occult – witchcraft, the supernatural, folk superstitions or practices – sometimes play too large a part in many of the books, to the detriment of their quality as detective stories; though this at least makes it clear that Mrs Bradley is as much a witch as a psychiatrist. 

In fact, Gladys Mitchell well understood that her books had about them the basic unreality of an all-ends-well comedy.  “I regard my books as fairy tales” she said, “I never take the crime itself seriously”. 

It’s been noted by others that Miss Mitchell was obviously a woman of some inquisitiveness, and that what she finds out, she shares.   Throughout her many books while it’s inevitable that there is a wide variation in subject, this sometimes also results in a variation in quality.

Everyone has his favourites, but it’s generally thought that her best books were those written up to the early 1950s – ‘St Peter’s Finger’ (1938) The Saltmarsh Murders’ (1941) and ‘The Devil’s Elbow’ (1951) are particularly praised – with only a handful thereafter reaching this earlier high standard.   Of these later novels ‘Dance to your Daddy’ (1969) should be singled out.  It’s light on the supernatural, while maintaining an air of unreality throughout.   The author herself has said:

… apart from ‘Laurels are Poison’ (1942) I like most ‘The Rising of the Moon’ (1945) which recalls much of my Brentford childhood. (I am Simon in the story and my beloved brother Reginald is Keith) and the same two children appear as Margaret and  Kenneth in the 50th book, Late, Late in the Evening’, which is about the two of us in Cowley, before the motor works got there “. 

Let the final words come from the poet Philip Larkin, who was a great admirer of the novels. In 1982 he wrote:

Miss Mitchell has always stood splendidly apart from her crime club confreres in total originality – even when, as today, there are almost none left to stand apart from. The originality consists in blending eccentricity of subject matter with authoritative common sense of style”.   

BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2020 . . . Best Book

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Blurb

If you want to read the full review of the books below,
just click the link and it will open in another window

THE FOUNDLING by STACEY HALLS

Best4

ORANGES AND LEMONS by CHRISTOPHER FOWLER

Best3

WHEN I COME HOME AGAIN by CAROLINE SCOTT

Best2

BOOK OF THE YEAR 2020
A PRIVATE CATHEDRAL by JAMES LEE BURKE

James Lee Burke has reached a grand old age, but every new novel shows us that the light shines ever brighter, and his indignation at injustice, cruelty and corruption – expressed through the deeds of Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell – is still white hot. A Private Cathedral is a mesmerising showcase for the author’s poetic style, his awareness of the all-encompassing power of the Louisiana landscape, and his sense that history – the dead and their deeds – hasn’t gone anywhere, but is right there, hiding in the shadows. There is music – always music – to  spark our senses and remind us that a three minute pop song can be just as potent a memory trigger as Proust’s Madeleines.

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CRIME FICTION ADVENT CALENDAR . . . Week Four

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Each decorative bar is a clickable link to
a video of the book of the day and a piece of seasonal music

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BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2020 . . . Best Thriller

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If you want to read the full review of each novel, just click the title. The review should then open in a different window

THE SECOND WIFE by REBECCA FLEET

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POSSESSED by PETER LAWS

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BORROWED TIME by DAVID MARK

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BEST THRILLER 2020
OFF SCRIPT by GRAHAM HURLEY

Screen Shot 2020-12-11 at 19.20.17If you were to ask the man or woman browsing in the books aisle at ASDA or TESCO to name a distinguished living British crime fiction writer, I would wager that few would come up with name Graham Hurley. , Rankin, James, McDermid and Child might get a mention – and all credit to them – but Graham Hurley is something of a connoisseur’s choice. I’ll be quite up front – I love his writing. The Joe Faraday novels were just wonderful, but then Mr H killed him off. He kept us entertained with the Jimmy Suttle stories which were, in a way, Faraday novels without Faraday, but then Jimmy disappeared. Hurley’s latest creation is not a copper. She is a 39 year-old actress with a brain tumour, and a back story that involves a very ‘dodgy geezer’, a former criminal ganglord called Hayden Prentice. Yes, there is plenty of crime, and an abundance of thrills but, above all, there is Hurley’s superb ability to create memorable characters and tell a mesmerising story. Click the author’s picture (above right) to learn more.

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BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2020 . . . Best Historical Crime

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All historical crime writers have two main tasks; first, to pose a plausible mystery, whether that is a murder to be solved or a conspiracy to be unraveled; second, they have to do their period research, and get it spot on, otherwise there will be an endless queue of sharp-eyed nit-pickers who will be ready to pounce on the slightest inaccuracy or anachronism. The very best of these writers have a third skill- and that is to weave the first two tasks together into a seamless cloth so that the reader is back in time, be it fifty, one hundred, or three hundred years ago, and completely at one with the protagonists of the story. Here are four historical crime novels that I have loved during 2020. To read the full review, just click the title.

THE MOLTEN CITY by CHRIS NICKSON

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THE MUSIC BOX ENIGMA by RN MORRIS

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THE TAINTED by CAUVERY MADHAVAN

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BEST HISTORICAL CRIME 2020
THE NIGHT RAIDERS by JIM KELLY

Screen Shot 2020-12-11 at 18.32.03I have long been a fan of Jim Kelly’s other two series, the Philip Dryden books and the Peter Shaw stories which, although firmly set in the present day, always feature plot lines where history has an unpleasant habit of intruding on the present. With this third set of books – set in 1940s Cambridge – we are ‘in’ history, albeit one which is in living memory for many people. Detective Inspector Eden Brooke is a fascinating character. Physically damaged and mentally scarred by his horrific treatment as a WW1 prisoner of war, he does his job thoughtfully and with great sensitivity as he watches civilian Cambridge struggle to come to terms with what it really means to be at war. In the earlier books in the series, we are in the so called  ‘phony war’, but as the title suggests, Night Raids sees the full horror of total war come to the streets of the city. For anyone new to Jim Kelly’s books, you can learn more by clicking on his photograph (above right).

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BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2020 . . . Best Police Procedural

Blurb

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For many of us, the Police Procedural remains the staple of our crime fiction reading diet. That the genre remains so lively after so many decades is a tribute to the ingenuity and assiduous research of the authors. Here are the four books that I enjoyed the most in 2020. To read the full review, just click the titles.

STILL LIFE by VAL McDERMID

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CRY BABY by MARK BILLINGHAM

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AFTER THE FIRE by JO SPAIN

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BEST POLICE PROCEDURAL 2020
BURY THEM DEEP by JAMES OSWALD

Screen Shot 2020-12-11 at 18.53.09The most crowded room in the mansion of Crime Fiction is the one containing all the Detective Inspectors. Why so many? Probably because in real life a DI’s seniority allows them to become involved in serious criminal cases, but they are not so elevated that they spend most of their time behind a desk juggling budgets and ticking boxes on diversity surveys. So, for a fictional DI to standout from the throng, they must have something a little bit different. With due apologies for execuspeak, Tony McLean’s USP is that he has an awareness of another world beyond the one inhabited with fellow – living – human beings. This is both a blessing and a curse, but James Oswald handles it with a great deal of nuance and restraint. There are no Woman In Black type shocks, and McLean certainly doesn’t “see dead people”. What we do have is a growing sense of unease, with something just at the corner of our peripheral vision maybe, and that something is certainly not benevolent. For more about James Oswald, click his picture (above left).

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CRIME FICTION ADVENT CALENDAR 2020 . . .Week Three

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Each decorative bar is a clickable link to
a video of the book of the day and a piece of seasonal music

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CRIME FICTION ADVENT CALENDAR 2020 . . . Week Two

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Each decorative bar is a clickable link to
a video of the book of the day and a piece of seasonal music

Dec8

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Dec10

Dec11

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Dec13

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