THE HOUNDSDITCH MURDERS & The Siege of Sidney Street by Donald Rumbelow

THE HOUNDSDITCH MURDERS & The Siege of Sidney Street

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Rumbelow is the London bobby who two years ago wrote I Spy Blue, the engaging story of how the London police force came into being. Alas, his latest opus is in every way less successful. Not that the plot lacks drama: a group of Latvian anarchists -- as rabid a bunch of demimonde desperadoes as London has ever harbored -- holed up in a blazing tenement shooting it out with the London cops and Home Office troops under the personal supervision of Winston Churchill whose freest hour this wasn't; headless bodies, bloodstained coats, murdered cops, shadowy figures slithering through the dark alleys of the East End. It would make a great movie. The problem is with the narrative -- an incredibly circuitous tale of revolutionary conspirators robbing and killing -- and with the vast cast of characters all with aliases, girlfriends and landladies whom Rumbelow insists on dragging in to further complicate an already complicated story. Using police and court records, he reconstructs the murderous train of events leading up to the siege of Sidney Street in the most minute detail. Indeed, had he been one of the detectives working on the case back in 1910 you feel sure that his investigative efforts would have been invaluable in the dragnet operations which eventually apprehended some of the conspirators. He even roots out and identifies one Karl Peters -- who afterwards became a hero of the October Revolution -- as the chief murderer and offers some plausible hypotheses on the identity of ""Peter the Painter"" who was never found. The trouble is that he fails to make you care about any of them; despite the photographs they remain faceless ciphers, while the siege itself is one of those very rare instances when the English constabulary engaged in hysterical overkill. Lots of shooting but very little involvement.

Pub Date: Dec. 3rd, 1973
Publisher: St. Martin's Press