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horrified and remained in Japan for many years, campaigning against nuclear war. Hiroshima Nagasaki also includes some mistranslations – such as ‘pyjamas’ for ‘yukata’ – and a candidate for the most tasteless phrase of the year: ‘The bomb gave America’s tooth-for-tooth sensibility the power to scatter a billion molars.’ But these are niggles. We are in Paul Ham’s debt for showing that it is unjustifiable to consider ever again dropping an atomic bomb.
Craig Collie’s Nagasaki contains much of the same information as Paul Ham’s but he knows neither how to present nor how to evaluate it. An Australian television producer, Collie writes pacy narrative with much human interest. The great themes laid out so well by Ham occasionally surface – should nuclear weapons be used? Against whom? What will their effects be? – but only in passing. The US
preoccupation with the dangers of the Soviet Union flashes in and out but the significant minority of leading scientists, including Einstein, who declared their opposition to using the bomb on civilian targets, go unmentioned. The doubts of important officials, such as Marshall and Secretary of State James Byrnes, are made to appear insignificant. The science behind the bombs is neglected but the way they were prepared in the air just before they were dropped is explained in detail. We learn a great deal about what went on in the two planes that dropped the bombs, and about what Stalin looked and dressed like – leaving unmentioned the fact that he was a monster. The postwar lies about the effects of the bombs never appear, nor does the insensitivity of the American doctors who inspected but did not treat the horribly burned and irradiated victims.
Collie’s final paragraph is ill-written, feel-good nonsense:
Whether a coincidence or cause and effect, the day after the Nagasaki bombing saw the first steps towards the new Japan … free from the grasp of militarism that had plagued it … Yoshiro Fukuda was cured by the bomb of his stomach ulcer as if Jesus Christ had passed by … Fate, that drone in the sky, can unfold against us so horrifyingly, but it can also unfold for us. It’s either in the lap of the gods or in the toss of the dice, depending on how you think the universe got here. No, actually: what happened over and in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the result of deliberate actions by men who planned what they were doing. To order these books, see the Literary Review bookshop on page 37
MA in biography
Consistently rated ‘excellent’ by external examiners and inspectors
The course is taught by Jane Ridley and will be based in London. Available full-time (12 months) or part-time,
by research or as a taught MA. Courses start October or January.
For more information visit our site www.buckingham.ac.uk/london/biography
EMAIL US AT JANE.RIDLEY@BUCKINGHAM.AC.UK
dav i d g e l b e r
Death of a Parson amn His Blood: Being a True and Detailed History of the Most Barbarous and nhumane Murder at Oddingley and the Quick and Awful Retribution
By Peter Moore (Chatto & Windus 364pp £16.99)
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 here long to trouble us’. One of their number, John Barnett, promised ‘he would give £50 for a dead parson’. A shotgun appeared mysteriously in the barn of another, Captain Samuel Evans, a former infantryman who had retired to the apparently tranquil country backwater.
The peace of Oddingley was brusquely shattered one late afternoon in June. At around 5pm on Midsummer Day, a gunshot echoed through its meadows and paddocks, and the Reverend George Parker, forty-four years old, fell dead in a field of clover. The first passers-by to reach the scene found the clergyman lying prostrate with a crater in his midriff, his clothing set alight by the sulphurous discharge of the weapon.
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There was little doubt about the identity of Parker’s murderer.The squat, square-faced figure in a blue greatcoat seen scrambling away through hedgerows was quickly identified as John Heming, a carpenter from a nearby village who worked as a casual labourer for Captain Evans. A first mystery concerned his whereabouts: a search of his house and the surrounding area revealed nothing. Even a lock-down of the port of Bristol and a reward of fifty guineas failed to uncover him. Heming simply vanished.
A second mystery concerned the motive for the murder. None of Parker’s possessions was removed from his corpse, so robbery was ruled out. Nor did Heming, an outsider in Oddingley, have any obvious quarrel with the cleric. Suspicion instead fell on the cabal of farmers who had damned his blood in diabolical tones. For some years, village life had been peppered by a dispute between the proud, supercilious clergyman, a native of the Lake District, and the surly, independent farmers of Oddingley. At the heart of the matter lay an argument over that age-old grievance, the tithe. After failing to secure an increase to the yearly parish levy of £135, Parker had resolved to collect the tithe in kind. As was his feudal right, he demanded that his chief parishioners hand over an annual tribute of milk, sheep and corn. The farmers resisted the humiliating demands of the ‘Bonaparte of Oddingley’: they hid their produce, chased the parson from their gates and presented him with the worst of their yields. These contretemps led to actions in court and, eventually, to criminal conspiracy.
Moore sets this seemingly parochial conflict against a turbulent horizon of war, revolution, rumour, surging inflation, fears of invasion and creeping industrialisation. He is brilliantly sensitive to the preoccupations of honour and reputation that gripped local communities, and to the rancorous, potentially murderous, effects of jibes, curses and sneers. He captures the village of Oddingley in oil colours and, like Constable, is alive to both the beauty and restlessness of rural life.
As Moore acknowledges, the story of Oddingley – with its portentous name – is sufficiently familiar even for a local public house to tout for business on the back of its infamous past. However, his research is so comprehensive that the story more than merits his retelling. Moore makes use of legal documents connected to the case, and quotes judiciously from local newspapers. At different points, the narrative is held up by excursuses on the criminal justice system, the development of forensic science and the invention of the police force. These digressions are mostly pertinent and add to the suspense of the story. Only occasionally do they seem gratuitous: the discovery of a saline odour on Heming’s discarded bag, for example, does not quite merit a discussion of the state of the Worcestershire salt industry, circa 1800. Where detail is missing, Moore resorts to literary parallels – from local ballads to the novels of Hardy and Dickens – to set the scene.
Peter Moore’s story ends twenty-four years after Heming’s disappearance, long after the case has gone cold. A chance discovery sheds new light on the murders, disinterring old secrets and reopening ancient wounds. None of the participants, he concludes, was untypical of the kinds of people you would ordinarily find in an English village: ‘Had they lived at a different time or in another place their stories may have been different or completely anonymous.’ Moore’s impressive debut will ensure that their names live on. To order this book for £13.59, see the Literary Review bookshop on page 37
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