Murder stories grip the headlines for a few weeks but as time passes they become distant memories to all but the victim and their close friends and relatives, buried under a host of other heinous crimes. Or do they?
The events of a brutal shooting executed on the person of the parson of Oddingley, Worcestershire in June 1806 are brought to life in painstaking detail in Damn His Blood the debut book by Watford-based author and historian Peter Moore. The telling of this particular midsummer murder led to it being BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week last month. Read by Alex Jennings (Silk) the story is abridged into half hour bite-size chunks and engagingly delves into the flaws and foibles of British society at the start of the 19th Century.
Having graduated from Durham University in history and sociology, Peter uses his research skills to follow this nail-biting true story of brutality, greed and ruthlessness through to its bloody conclusion and sets it against a backdrop of wider social unrest as the country is squeezed by William (the younger) Pitt’s war taxes, mounting inflation and the lingering threat of a French invasion.
Violence was rife at the time, particularly in rural communities where outsiders were regarded with deep suspicion.
Peter’s training in historical research allows him to paint a convincing and multi-dimensional picture of death in a hamlet set in a remote corner of Georgian England.
Peter’s lively tone has been further honed by working in journalism in Madrid for six years before studying for his masters in creative writing at City University, where he has now gone on to lecture on the subject. His book has frisson of fiction backed by a fact-driven narrative.
I ask Peter what made him decide on writing in this particular format?
“You can’t go much further back and write a story in the same way I’ve written this,“ says Peter. “I’m always drawn towards vibrant historical stories and it helps to have studied history to be able to satisfy the academic historian and reader alike. It’s a kind of criss-cross book, not quite pure non-fiction as I use these techniques to develop characters, plot and dialogue.
“I’m lucky that the inquest and court records were still available as well as the briefs from the prosecution. They conducted numerous interviews and collated 100 different witness statements. These were colourful stories and with them I was able to piece together something almost novelistic in form, but you can’t make stuff up, if you’re going to be factual.“
Fortunately for Peter, real life is stranger than fiction. As the Oddingley case goes, the Reverend Parker was a newcomer to the quiet community, but he swiftly rose in unpopularity among the farming folk who resented him raising the amount they had to pay in terms of church tithes. The plot to do away with him is a compelling tale in itself but then the supposed murderer goes missing and what is thought to be his skeleton is unearthed leading to further inquests and intrigue.
“It’s like the things Sherlock Holmes shouts at Dr Watson that the best stories are true and you don’t have to make it up,“ points out Peter. “To fictionalise it would be a disservice to the story, which is pointless as it’s already there fully formed and rich enough to stand on its own.
“Whenever a murder is committed the magistrates are sent out to write down everything that happened and through this prism we get to the history as people have to say what they were doing at the time and from this we can recreate life in this village on a summer’s day. There are all these wonderful little scenes that enliven it and add colour and help build an accurate picture of the village as it was.“
As well as his interest in incredulous crimes, Peter is a member of Watford Camera Club. He bought his first DSLR camera at the end of 2010 and intends to use photography as a visual accompaniment to his writing. Some of his photographs appear in the book.
Peter has already embarked on his next title, The Weather Experiment.
“It’s about 19th Century meteorologists and how they learned to predict the future,“ Peter explains. “It covers their scientific and intellectual progress and it’s a transatlantic story, so hopefully I can travel as the weather doesn’t respect national boundaries, but I’m not quite sure where it’s going to go just yet.“
Damn His Blood by Peter Moore is published by Random House, £16.99. Signed copies in Waterstones, Watford.