In a celebrated essay of 1946, George Orwell sketched a quintessential Sunday afternoon scene in households up and down the land:
You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose, and open the News of the World … Your pipe is drawing sweetly, the sofa cushions are soft underneath you, the fire is well alight, the air is warm and stagnant. In these blissful circumstances, what is it that you want to read about? Naturally, about a murder.
Peter Moore’s Damn His Blood is the latest contribution to that time-honoured British tradition: the true murder mystery. While the title may bear the ring of a Victorian penny dreadful, Moore’s book is a work of scholarship as well as a crime thriller, recreating the world of two centuries past in expressive, erudite and discerning prose.
On Easter Monday, 1806, a group of farmers from the village of Oddingley, Worcestershire, gathered around a tavern table and raised a jeering, left-handed toast ‘to the health of the Reverend George Parker’. The following month, the same group met again to ‘drink damnation to him, he will not be