The Maul and the Pear Tree

Overview

In this riveting true crime account, acclaimed author P. D. James, the "Queen of the English mystery novel" (Newsweek) joins forces with historian T. A. Critchley to re-create the Radcliffe Highway murders, a series of vicious crimes committed in 1811 ... The scene is the London Docks near Wapping Old Stairs, a sinister neighborhood where pirates were often hanged. The first victims were two hardworking shopkeepers, along with their baby and shop boy. Twelve days later and only a few blocks away, an equally ...
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Overview

In this riveting true crime account, acclaimed author P. D. James, the "Queen of the English mystery novel" (Newsweek) joins forces with historian T. A. Critchley to re-create the Radcliffe Highway murders, a series of vicious crimes committed in 1811 ... The scene is the London Docks near Wapping Old Stairs, a sinister neighborhood where pirates were often hanged. The first victims were two hardworking shopkeepers, along with their baby and shop boy. Twelve days later and only a few blocks away, an equally blameless pub owner was found together with his wife and servant, victims of equal cruelty and apparent absence of motive. The serial killings provoked nationwide notoriety and panic. With the atmosphere and pacing of her best novels, James reveals the rudimentary police system of Regency London coping with a major murder investigation -- and crimes that rank up there with Jack the Ripper, the Boston Strangler, and Son of Sam as the very symbol of murderous and unthinking brutality.

With the fascination of a true-life detective story, this account of the Ratcliffe Highway murders describes crimes that were to the nineteenth century the very symbol of murderous and unthinking brutality.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1811, London's East End was the scene of a series of murders so brutal and irrational that they caused panic throughout the city, which lacked a central police force. This engrossing account, marking the American nonfiction debut of British mystery novelist James, details the seven vicious (``brains battered out and throats butchered''), apparently motiveless slayings (which occurred first in a linen shop, then, days later, in a nearby pub); the confused efforts of local ``police'' groups; and the cases' suspiciously abrupt closing after suspect John Williams, a seaman and lodger at the Pear Tree public house, committed suicide in jail, thereby sealing his ``guilt'' and prompting a bizarre parade of his corpse (together with a murderous maul) throughout the city. James and police historian Critchley use documents and contemporary news accounts splendidly, pointing up the incompetence of the investigators and offering an intriguing view of what really happened. First published in Britain in 1971, this will certainly please James's following here. (March 25)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446679213
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 10/8/2007
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 427,087
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

P. D. James
P. D. James
With morality-conscious mysteries that do not linger on gore, P. D. James is a sort of anti-Lecter. Her tales are told in the whodunit tradition that prizes character, restraint and the slow unraveling of both a mystery and a social niche.

Biography

Few writers have left so indelible an impression on crime fiction as P. D. (Phyllis Dorothy) James, an author whose elegant, bestselling novels have found an appreciative audience among readers and critics alike. James's intricately plotted books are filled with macabre events and shocking twists and turns, yet they are so beautifully written and morally complex that they cannot be dismissed as mere murder mysteries...although, in James's view, there's nothing "mere" about mysteries!

In James's native Britain (home of Wilkie Collins, Graham Greene, and the redoubtable Agatha Christie), the mystery is a time-honored form that has never been considered inferior. James explained her feelings in a 1998 interview with Salon.com: "It isn't easy to make this division and say: That's genre fiction and it's useless, and this is the so-called straight novel and we take it seriously. Novels are either good novels or they're not good novels, and that is the dividing line for me."

Although she always wanted to be a novelist, James came to writing relatively late in life. Her formal schooling ended at 16, when she went to work to help out her cash-strapped parents. In 1941 she married a doctor assigned to the Royal Army Medical Corps. He returned from WWII with a severe mental illness that lasted until his death in 1964, necessitating that James become the family breadwinner. She worked in hospital administration and then in various departments of the British Civil Service until her retirement in 1979. (Her experience navigating the labyrinthine corridors of government bureaucracies has provided a believable backdrop for many of her books.)

James's first novel, Cover Her Face, was published in 1962. An immediate success, it introduced the first of her two longtime series protagonists -- Adam Dalgleish, a police inspector in Scotland Yard and a published poet. Her second recurring character, a young private detective named Cordelia Gray, debuted in 1972's An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. Both Dalgliesh and Cordelia went on to star in a string of international bestsellers.

James has only occasionally departed from her series, most notably for the standalone mystery Innocent Blood (1980) and the dystopian sci-fi classic Children of Men (1992), which was turned into an Oscar-nominated film. In 2000, she published a slender "fragment of autobiography" called A Time to Be Earnest, described by The New York Time Book Review as " deeply moving, and all too short."

Good To Know

  • In television mini-series that have aired in the U.S. on PBS, British actors Roy Marsden and Martin Shaw have portrayed Adam Dalgliesh and Helen Baxendale has starred as Cordelia Gray.

  • James explained the essence of a murder mystery in a 2004 essay for Britain's Guardian: "E. M. Forster has written, 'The king died and then the queen died is a story. The king died and the queen died of grief is a plot. The queen died and no one knew why until they discovered it was of grief is a mystery, a form capable of high development.' To that I would add: the queen died and everyone thought it was of grief until they discovered the puncture wound in her throat. That is a murder mystery and, in my view, it too is capable of high development. "

  • In 1983, James was awarded the OBE. In 1991 she was made a Life Peer (Baroness James of Holland Park).

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      1. Also Known As:
        Phyllis Dorothy James White (full name)
      2. Hometown:
        London, England
      1. Date of Birth:
        August 3, 1920
      2. Place of Birth:
        Oxford, England
      1. Education:
        Attended the Cambridge High School for Girls from 1931 to 1937 and later took evening classes in hospital administration

    Table of Contents

    Foreword 1
    Death of a Linen Draper 7
    Person or Persons Unknown 20
    The Maul 42
    Twelfth Night 75
    The Pear Tree 104
    Feast of the Nativity 124
    Verdict from Shadwell 150
    A Grave at the Crossroads 174
    The French Knife 191
    A Case for Parliament 209
    The Eighth Victim? 225
    Epilogue 262
    Bibliography 266
    People in the Case 269
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