Murder at Wrotham Hill

Quercus · 320 pp · September 2012

Murder at Wrotham Hill is published by Quercus in hardback, paperback and Kindle edition.


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Before dawn on 31 October 1946, less than a year after the slaughter of World War Two, on a bleak roadside in Kent, a lone woman looks to hitch a lift to London. A lorry driver stops. The encounter ends in murder.

The victim, Dagmar Petrzywalski, is a gentle eccentric spinster. She had sought the peace of the countryside after her London home was bombed. She is the embodiment of Austerity Britain’s self-sacrifice and thrift. Her murderer, Harold Hagger is its opposite. His life is a litany of petty crimes, deceived wives, sloughed-off identities and army desertions. With their characters so indelibly marked the tragic outcome of their meeting seems determined by fate.

In Murder at Wrotham Hill Diana Souhami dwells on the significance of this crime, and shows that even after the killing of twenty million people in a global conflict, one death still has much to tell us. In doing so she paints a gripping portrait of post-war Britain that raises questions about murder, punishment and destiny.

Her characters include England’s first celebrity policeman, Fabian of the Yard; the celebrated forensic scientist, Keith Simpson; and history’s most famous and dedicated hangman, Albert Pierrepoint.


Souhami’s dissection of the murder is completely engrossing in its insistence that fatality is about fallible human beings. [ read this review at ]

Iain Finlayson, The Times

Souhami’s hypnotic narrative grips throughout. It is commonly held that murders tell us something about the societies in which they took place. But this post-war case does something else too. Both killer and victim stood at an angle to society, and the strangeness of their stories resonates deeply in another way, leading one to meditate on ideas of malevolent fate and evil. [ read this review at ]

Sinclair McKay, the Telegraph

Souhami persuades us that the death of one seemingly unimportant woman can be opened out into a profound scrutiny, not only of the past but of human conscience. [ read this review at ]

Jane Jakeman, the Independent

Souhami evokes these drab, joyless years with painful brilliance, so that one can almost feel the shabby poverty and smell the foggy, coal-dust-filled air. She plots the lives of the murderer and his victim with chilling precision. [ read this review at ]

Juliet Gardiner, the Spectator

Murder At Wrotham Hall is more than a pacy whodunit. It is a snapshot of a historical moment, a time when there was as much concern with moral debates as there was worrying about whether there was enough sugar to last the week. [ read this review at ]

Kathryn Hughes, the Mail on Sunday

It’s [a] willingness to open up the expected format that makes Murder at Wrotham Hill so compelling about its time and the attitudes of those living in it, rather than simply a voyeuristic account of a misfortune of bad timing that caused two miserable and pointless deaths.

Jenny Diski, the London Review of Books