From Victorian times, sitting by the flickering fireside with the old oil lamp for light, the detective story or whodunit has been favourite reading. The detectives have been divided between the professional policeman and the private eye or American gumshoe, although our private detectives are more refined.
It all started, with Wilkie Collins who wrote 'The Moonstone' and 'The Woman in White' with Mr. Inspector Bucket. The most famous private detective was Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. Watson, by Arthur Conan Doyle: they first appeared in 'The Strand' magazine in late Victorian times.
For quite a number of years between the wars Sexton Blake was popular; two volumes a month were issued, written by various authors. Then of course Agatha Christie wrote about the little Belgian, Hercule Poirot, and also the spinster from St. Mary Mead, the inimitable Miss Jane Marple.
Criminologists came in various guises: G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown and Dorothy L. Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey. Television has brought these to modern notice, together with Sgt. Cork the Victorian policeman, Caedfael the medieval monk and Simeon's Frenchman, Maigret; the most popular one has been Inspector Morse.
I think what made such interest was the wealth of real life: the notorious crimes of Jack the Ripper, Charlie Peace, Doctor Crippen, Buck Ruxton and Henry Armstrong and many others, most of whom ended up on the gallows. I have read hundreds of whodunits and most of the famous murders of the last hundred years and I think fact is more interesting than fiction.
Local crimes have occasionally come to the fore, the most interesting one being the murder of a gamekeeper in Evesham in the latter years of the last century which ended in riots: the killers, the Boswell brothers and Lively Hill (who is said to have struck the fatal blow) were sentenced to hang and then for reasons known only to himself, the home Secretary reprieved Lively Hill but the Boswells hung; this led to riots in the streets.
Autumn 1994 Index