Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Verdict of Twelve – Raymond Postgate

Crime Fiction

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.

First Published UK: 1940
Publisher: British Library Publishing
No of Pages: 256
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane – Paul Thomas Murphy

Non-Fiction 4*s

This historical true crime happened in 1871 in the Greenwich are of Victorian London. Poor Jane Coulson had been found in a terrible state with her face bashed in on a footpath by a policeman following his beat in the area. The girl was at last unidentified so extreme were her facial injuries and in the week or so that it took to discover who she was a few other girls, sadly of disrepute, were named as the victim. Eventually the truth was discovered but Jane Coulson didn’t, couldn’t, survive her injuries.

This is a well-researched book of a crime that I hadn’t come across before and doesn’t just concentrate on the police’s investigation into the murder but also the three trials the suspect underwent with the accompanying views of both the media and the local population at the time. With a sense of the place impeccably reconstructed for the reader as well as a detailed look at the various stages of the investigation and the trial I was absorbed by this reconstruction. With enough doubt to whether the right person had been arrested from the outset the author has pieced together the details including those that didn’t appear at the trial. Of course, after such a long period of time, there is little hard evidence to re-examine but that didn’t stop the author applying principles known today that were not at this time, being used to make a reasonable assessment of the case.

The author also captures the characters who make up the background to the story. From the reluctant witness of the shop-keeper who was unable to identify the man who bought the hammer which was the alleged weapon to the righteous Mr Henry Pook who defended the alleged perpetrator Edmund Pook, no relative. Edmund Pook was supported by his father a grandly named Ebenezer Pook along with his brother and other family members. The victim, Jane Coulson had worked as a maid of all work for this middle-class family and as a result we get to see how the Victorian class system operated at that time. Maids of all work were by far the most common servants of the time with middle-class families keeping one to do long hours as a status symbol as much as anything. The Pooks were not so well-off that Jane even had a pokey attic for a room, she actually shared with the victim’s cousin!

All in all a fascinating and immensely readable account of the crime, its investigation both into the identity of the victim and the murderer, the trials that followed and just as intriguingly the reaction of the public both on the streets and through the media of the day. In some ways this reaction was split along class lines but not entirely which in itself was interesting.

In the end my conclusion ties in with the authors but read the book yourself, you may well think that another scenario is equally as likely as to who did kill Jane Coulson.

I’d like to thank the publishers Head of Zeus who allowed me to read an advance copy of this book. This unbiased review is my thank you to them.

Published UK: 14 July 2016
Publisher: Head of Zeus
No of Pages 352
Genre: Historical True Crime
Amazon UK
Amazon US – Not Available