Six Essential British Murder Mysteries

October 17, 2014 1:08 PM

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Six Essential British Murder Mysteries

From around the year 1800 to the present day, the British have taken an unhealthy interest in murder. Over two centuries, this fascination has appeared in journalism, theatre, tourism... and particularly, in the whole body of detective fiction. Its development went hand-in-hand with what we might call 'civilization' -- gas-lighting, a police force, industrialization, life in the city -- everything that allowed people to feel safe from nature and its dangers. If you'd been an eighteenth-century Briton, you'd probably have lived in a village, and your greatest fears would have been dying of disease or famine. In the nineteenth century, it's likely that you'd have moved into a town. Life there might have been cleaner and more convenient, but there was a drawback: you'd no longer know your neighbours. And so, in the cities, the Victorians began to have the luxury -- for a 'luxury' it is -- of obsessing about something as inherently unlikely as getting murdered. This new fear, therefore, went along with paranoia, and anxiety, and neurosis, and all the other things we 'enjoy' about modern life.

The so-called 'Sensation' novels of the 1860s, by authors such as Wilkie Collins, were intended to create actual physical sensations in their readers. Addictively readable, those of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, author of Lady Audley, were condemned by contemporaries as "Harrowing the Mind, making the Fle...

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