The Fatal Passion of Alma Rattenbury by Sean O’Connor

It is rarely remembered that George Orwell’s celebrated 1946 essay Decline of the English Murder was itself a book review, its subject a now forgotten “shilling shocker” that told, in breathless sentences printed on thin war-issue paper, the story of the so-called Cleft Chin Murder.

In days when all murders seemed to acquire a title, the cleft chin was that of an unfortunate taxi-driver, shot dead at the culmination of a nihilistic rampage by a GI gone Awol and his Welsh “moll” in a London cowering under the onslaught of V1 rockets. Orwell meditated sardonically on the way the war had coarsened English values, one of its casualties being that great contribution that England had made to world civilisation: the middle-class murder.

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