200 Years of British Murder


The Oxford Experience is a residential summer programme providing one-week courses in a variety of subjects aimed at non-specialists. It offers a choice of seminars each week over a period of six weeks.

Murder has been an essential part of world literature since its beginnings. In this course we will study a third selection of important British crime novels (1837: Oliver Twist; 1868: The Moonstone; 1911: The Innocence of Father Brown; 1977: A Judgement in Stone; and Close to Home; 2018) to find what they have in common and what each has that is distinctive. We should discover much more about the history of crime fiction in English, its varieties, and the way a book is constructed. Students are asked to read the five books before the course begins. We will look for links to contemporary crime fiction and students are invited to bring their own linked reading discoveries to the group.

Programme details

Seminars meet each weekday morning, 09.15-10.45 and 11.15-12.45, with afternoons free for course-related field trips, individual study or exploring the many beautiful places in and around the city.

In our initial discussion we will consider what makes a good crime story and what we expect from one. Then we discuss Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist from 1837 which, despite the musical, is a very interesting and disturbing book: a story of pursuit, crime and detection, as well as a social and psychological study.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins is one of the most famous of the Sensation novels of the 1860s and is often called the first detective story. In it Collins experiments with ways of telling an mystery without cheating the reader.

A new century brings us to The Innocence of Father Brown by G K Chesterton. Father Brown is overshadowed by his predecessor, Sherlock Holmes, but has a claim to be the greater. We look in detail at a few of the stories and consider the short story’s advantages and disadvantages.

Ruth Rendell is one of the greats. A Judgement in Stone is one of her not-Wexford novels and is unusual as we are told who the killer is from the very beginning so it provides a very different kind of book to discuss.

Our last book is by one of the exciting new crime writers, Cara Hunter. Close to Home is the first of a well-plotted police series that surprises with its twists and which mixes straight narrative with reports, social media etc and which is set in a mainly recognisable real Oxford.

We finish with a review of the week and participants recommendations of books from their own countries.


Description Costs
Programme fee (no accom–incl.lunch and dinner) £1070.00
Programme fee (with single en-suite accom and meals) £1565.00
Programme fee (with single standard accom and meals) £1380.00


Mr Michael Harrison


Michael Harrison is a professional writer who has published over fifty books, including anthologies, poetry, and crime novels for children, and literary guide books and short stories for adults. He has taught 19 previous Oxford Experience courses and during the winter months teaches a weekly adult literature class.

Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course.


Online registration closes on Friday, 1 May 2020 but please note that this course may be fully booked very quickly so early registration is recommended.


During your course, you will stay in typical Oxford student accommodation at Christ Church in buildings which range from the 18th to the 20th century.

The fee stated includes a bedroom with private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet). Most are single but a few twins are available*.

There is also a limited number of standard rooms available, which all have their own washbasin and shaver point but shared bath and toilet facilities. Most standard rooms are single but there are a few ‘twin sets’ (two single rooms opening off a sitting room)*.

*If you wish to book a twin en-suite room or a standard twin set room each person should complete an application form and email it to us at oxfordexperience@conted.ox.ac.uk as these rooms cannot be booked online. (Forms may also be posted to us at: The Oxford Experience, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JA, UK)

Please indicate your accommodation preferences (either online or on your application form) together with a note of any mobility problems. Students should note that bedrooms are modestly-furnished, do not have air-conditioning and are arranged on a staircase of four or five floors.

We regret that we are unable to offer you accommodation at Christ Church prior to or following your course. Additionally, family or friends who are not enrolled in the programme cannot be accommodated in college.


If accommodation is unavailable in a particular week, we also offer places on a non-residential basis whereby participants can take classes and have meals at the college, having arranged their own accommodation elsewhere.

If you wish to enrol on a non-residential basis please complete an application form and email it to us at oxfordexperience@conted.ox.ac.uk as this option cannot be booked online. (Forms may also be posted to us at: The Oxford Experience, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JA, UK)