I can’t believe that I hadn’t heard of this book before it was included as one of the wonderful British Library Crime Classics. This unusual tale follows the deliberation of a crime as recounted in court to a jury of the traditional twelve.
The book is split into three parts – we have the introduction to the jury in the first part some of whom have led colourful lives, especially one who committed a serious crime, but on the whole they are what we can assume are a fairly typical mix of society at the time the book was published, in 1940. We have a travelling salesman, a domestic servant, a publican and the university professor who imagines his superior intellect will be needed to help the other members reach the right decision. The question is will he and will they? Raymond Postgate uses this first section to not only give us the jurors social standing but also to comment, albeit lightly, on the politics of the time so we get to understand the havoc caused by WWI and the rise of anti-Semitism in the UK at the time he wrote the book, which I would hazard a guess at being prior to the start of WWII as this doesn’t get a mention. This opener can also be seen as a way of asking the readers to predict how the jurors will decide whether or not to convict the defendant, although at this stage we have no idea what crime has been committed let alone who the defendant is. This is because we get some details of their lives, those who have lived the life they expected to those who have felt thwarted, those who have known great love to those who have felt deep loss, the religious and the abused sit side by side, again providing us with a range of experiences that could be common to any random group of strangers.
In part two we learn about the charges levied against the defendant told in a fairly straightforward narrative format with little of the dramatics that we may associate with a courtroom drama. The story is a sad one and the evidence far from conclusive, more than that I won’t say because I don’t want to take anything away from the sheer delight I felt at trying to determine what the truth of the matter might be.
The final section is where we sit amongst the jurors and see what they decide, and why. Some are decisive, and those that are were not necessarily the ones that I predicted would be in the first part. Raymond Postgate seems to have a good handle on seemingly lightly skimming the surface and thereby making this book intensely readable but punctuating his words from truths that are as pertinent now as they obviously were then, that is why people tend to act the way they do.
I can’t leave this review by stating that the postscript is phenomenal, sheer genius and one that ensures that this is one of those books that I will remember for a long time to come.
I’d like to say a big thank you to the publishers of Verdict of Twelve, British Library Publishing, for allowing me to read a copy of this book. This review is my unbiased thank you to them for such a memorable read.