Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Cromwell Street Murders – John Bennett

Non Fiction
4*s

I don’t read much in the way of more recent true crime but the one exception is those horrific murders carried out by Fred and Rose West. These murders were committed in Gloucester, the largest city to where I spent the latter part of my childhood and where I moved to when I first left home. I already lived in Jersey and was heavily pregnant when in 1994 the garden at 25 Cromwell Street was dug up to reveal the bones of young women.

In the intervening years there have been many books written and I thought I had read them all. Somehow I missed this one, from the perspective of Detective Superintendent John Bennett QPM, the officer in charge of the investigation.

This is an interesting read which takes us behind the scenes and gives some context to what the police knew, in contrast to what the media were able to reveal, and what information they were seeking. John Bennett also works hard to bring the victims and their families to the fore of the investigation, to give them the respect they were so cruelly deprived off when they met their fate at Fred and Rose West’s hands.

Although of course the book doesn’t avoid the murders it certainly doesn’t dwell unnecessarily on them. Instead we have a reconstruction of the house which once stripped of the lurid tabloid details is revealed to be far smaller than might be expected pretty much laying to rest any idea that horrific murders could occur without other adult residents being aware of the fact.

The book is well structured starting with the lead detective giving his recollection of how and why steps were taken to question Fred West further over his missing daughter Heather. The days that followed which included the key revelations made by Fred are all laid out in chronological detail.
Although the book hinges on the crimes of two utterly depraved individuals what it does best is show the reader how a murder investigation really is run. Some parts are devoted to gathering evidence the exact nature of the bagging for forensic purposes, the managing of the media, the questioning of witnesses and of course the horrendous job of talking to potential victim’s families. When you consider that this relatively small police force was handling one of the biggest murder investigations of the British Isles it gives you some idea of the sheer complexity of the task in hand.

John Bennett attempts to be candid about those officers he feels didn’t perform as he would have expected and you get the feeling that there was more on that score that could have been said. This along with tales of family occasions missed and touching tributes to his patient wife while providing some semblance of context became to my mind a little overblown by the time we’d heard various examples. I can’t be the only reader who was shocked at his wife’s reaction during Rose’s trial, particularly as we’d been told that he never discussed any details at home.

This book was definitely informative and in the main incredibly readable and provided me with another viewpoint of this huge murder investigation.

First Published UK: 2005
Publisher: The History Press
No of Pages: 528
Genre: Non-Fiction
Amazon UK
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Move to Murder – Antony M Brown

Non-Fiction
4*s

I honestly can’t recall when I first came to hear about this historical true crime which seemed to have all the elements of a fiction, far removed from the more mundane murders where the motive, opportunity and means soon become relatively clear, but it was many years ago.  I hadn’t however read any books on the matter although there have been more than a few written and was keen to learn more.

Antony M Brown has devised an interesting concept with the publishers Mirror Books

Cold Case Jury is a unique collection of true crime mysteries. Each one tells the story of an unsolved, historic murder in an evocative and compelling way. It tells the story dramatically, like a historical novel, exposes the strengths and weaknesses of past theories and allows the readers to make their judgement on what most likely happened. Although each book is perfectly self-contained, the author providing his view at the end, readers are able to deliver their verdicts on this website, making these the first truly interactive crime tales. Beautifully presented with uniquely illustrated covers, they also contain historic documents, map and images – some unpublished before. For lovers of puzzles, mysteries and crime stories, this new collection of Cold Case Jury books will not only bring a murder story to life – it will make you part of it

And this is one of the mysteries and I for one couldn’t resist the opportunity to sit on the jury from the comfort of my own house although I have to confess voting for my chosen suspect did feel more than a little odd to say the least! I’m not sure whether choosing a murderer albeit one that is dead should be on a par with voting for your favourite contestant on a reality show.

For those who haven’t come across this true crime the facts that have puzzled many over the years are as follows:

On 20 January 1931 Mrs Julia Wallace was found murdered inside her home in Liverpool, she’d been bludgeoned to death.
Her husband William had found her body on his return from a fruitless client meeting as his job as an Insurance Agent for the Prudential Insurance, as he’d been unable to open the day at the first try his neighbours who he’d asked if they knew why were soon to the scene.
The real mystery seemed to be who was the Mr Qualtrough who’d left a message at the chess club he’d attended the evening before. This was the man William Wallace had set out to meet, but not only did Mr Qualtrough appear not to exist, nor did the address 25 Menlove Gardens East. This fact was unknown to William Wallace and everyone he asked for assistance directed him to similar addresses located in one area of Liverpool.
The unsolvable part of the mystery is if the crime was committed by the most obvious suspect, the husband, then who made the phone call to the chess club and left the message for William Wallace? And how could he kill her when he was tramping the streets looking for Mr Qualtrough? If someone had lured him away then what was there motive?

The author lays out the facts, those discovered by the police at the time, the contemporary records of the trial of William Wallace and the unusual decision to free him on appeal due to lack of evidence. He also includes information that has come to light after the death of some of the key players. This is all set out well, and at the end we are given various suspects and how likely our author believes them to be viable, he also lays his own hat down with his preferred scenario.

This was a book that I would classify as more factual ‘true crime’ which was enjoyable for the lack of drama and sensationalism alone. This was the third in this series of books which are also featured on the Cold Case Jury website.

I’d like to say a big thank you to Mirror Books who allowed me to read an copy of Move to Murder which was published on 1 November 2018.

First Published UK: 1 November 2018
Publisher: Mirror Books
No of Pages: 247
Genre: Non Fiction – True Crime
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Innocent Killer – Michael Griesbach

Non-Fiction
2*s

I’m not going to lie this book was requested from NetGalley some time ago, in fact it was published in February 2016! So why did it take me so long to get around to reading it? Well this book is strongly linked to the Netflix True Crime sensation which was  Making A Murderer, and I thought I would watch it but not being a great watcher of TV didn’t actually ever get around to it.  And then at the tail end of 2018 I did, and remembered The Innocent Killer!

True crime is always somewhat difficult to review, after all are we concentrating on the crime itself and how interesting/entertaining that is? You see what I mean? If you look at any true crime from that dimension it can seem at best completely heartless but to be blunt without the crime having some aspect to set it apart, its hard to see how you generate the interest. I’m hoping that the following review will indicate some of the areas that true crime writers need to consider when writing a book, it turns out true crime isn’t all about the crime after all.

The killer in this book is about Steven Avery, a man who lived in Manitowac County, Wisconsin, and this book concentrates for the most part on the crime he was convicted of the rape of a local woman back in the 1985 and went on to serve eighteen years in prison for the crime. Then in 2003 he was exonerated, the advances in DNA testing proving that another man was guilty of that crime. Then in a massive twist in the tale, just as Steven Avery’s civil suit was being played out in court for damages owed to him for the wrongful conviction, he was accused of the murder of a young woman photographer Teresa Halbach and in 2007 was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

Michael Griesbach it should be noted is a prosecuting attorney for the Manitowac County Prosecutor’s Office and with the majority of the book going into the background, trial and the ultimate work carried out by the innocence project that led to Steven Avery’s exoneration in relation to the rape charge. This is done in far more depth than the TV series whose focus is on the murder and subsequent imprisonment with a particular focus on how sound or otherwise the conviction for that crime is believed to be.

I really did appreciate the additional details provided in this book on the original prison charge although perhaps the author’s lack of experience in writing a novel is apparent especially with the repetition, and surprisingly for a lawyer, the unusual narrative structure in places.

However once we are at the point when Steven is released from prison the book fell down for me because the author is unable to write the second part from anything like an independent perspective. He’s name-dropping his friends, piling on the absolute outrage he feels at the nasty television producers for even daring to question the integrity of the officers who serve Manitowac County, and in doing so lost any credibility from this reader. In fact it was at that point I began to seriously question why he even wrote this book. A sceptical person might say he saw an opportunity and decided to cash in on it, someone less harsh might say he was standing up for his friends, who lets not forget, very nearly had to part with a small fortune had they been deemed liable for the incorrect incarceration of Steven on the original rape charge. It was therefore with no surprise that I learnt on finishing the book that Michael Griesbach acts as an attorney for one of the Police Officers whose actions in both investigations and trials are highlighted by the TV programme.

So in conclusion, if like me you are so late to the party that it is a distant and somewhat hazy memory for everyone else, you may find the additional information on the first charge informative however I’d save yourself some rage and close the book once that part is over.

I’d like to say a belated thank you to the publishers Random House UK who allowed me to read a copy of The Innocent Killer albeit over three years ago, better late than never?

First Published UK: 21 January 2016
Publisher: Random House UK
No of Pages: 304
Genre: Non Fiction – True Crime
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Love As Always Mum xxx – Mae West with Neil McKay

Non-Fiction
5*s

Fred & Rose West’s crimes were shocking and I well remember the days at the end of February, beginning of March 1994 when the papers were full of nothing else than the awful rising count of bodies found in a garden, and under a cellar floor, in Gloucester. As the details unfolded I felt a personal pull; I had lived near and in Gloucester, I’d certainly walked along Cromwell Street and Heather West was the same age as me, or would have been if she hadn’t been killed and buried under a patio.

In 2011 Neil McKay’s drama documentary Appropriate Adult was shown on UK TV. This looked at the effect that sitting in on the interviews between Fred West and the police had on the woman designated his ‘appropriate adult.’ The writer had gone to great lengths to look at the psychological impact on the people involved in the investigation. Mae, the eldest surviving daughter of Rose and Fred West was involved in the project and he persuaded her to tell the world what it was really like growing up, and what the last twenty plus years have been like being the daughter of probably the most notorious of all female serial killers. His assistance with the book mean that while Mae’s own words shine through the structure and overall feel is that this is a well-written and thought out book.

Because of my early interest I have read most if not all of the books written about the crimes but I was very interested to hear how Mae came to terms with the realisation that her mother had been far more involved than Mae had wanted to believe. I truly believe that when we obviously recoil from the crimes that their parents committed we forget that the children in the house at the time were innocent and yet they bear the scars not only of their upbringing but also the scars of people’s reactions when they find out who they are. This is a side of crime and the awful ripple effect that is rarely examined.

I’m not going to pretend this is an easy read but I’m glad to say it doesn’t dwell on accounts of the murders themselves, although of course they do feature, rather this is Mae’s account of things she remembers from childhood; Heather and her younger brother Stephen feature largely here because of the first three children of Rose and Fred West were close in age. Mae is at pains to impress that while there was abuse and other unsavoury things going on at home, they also celebrated birthdays, had a lovely sit down Christmas lunch and were turned out to school in spotlessly clean clothes and Rose took the children to school she picked them up at home time. In other words her childhood wasn’t so very different to mine, or I suspect any other child’s in the same era. Mae also puts to bed the lie that the West children knew no better than the way they were bought up. Even as children, as children generally are, they were aware where the differences between their homelife and those of those of their peers. They were embarrassed by ‘sex noises’ leaking into the street and the fact that their father compulsively stole, and abused his daughters.

The extracts from Rose’s letters add another psychological study which is impossible to solve although Mae gives her views on what the letters sending her love from inside prison to the life her daughter was building with such a terrible shadow hanging over her.

What most impressed me is that Mae manages to get across that just because she was played a very bad hand in the cards of life she has her own aspirations, she has passed the right values onto the next generation as have her sisters who she remains close to. I say to those who criticise her decision to write this book, who are we to judge and perhaps if you remove the sensationalism surrounding the author and read the words, this is a study of a number of psychological issues.

First Published UK: 6 September 2018
Publisher: Seven Dials
No of Pages: 461
Genre: Non-Fiction
Amazon UK
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

A Double Life – Flynn Berry

Crime Fiction
4*s

It is no secret that I am incredibly fond of books that use true crime as a starting point for a fictional account and so I simply had to read Flynn Berry’s second book which is loosely based upon Lord Lucan, the man who killed his nanny and then disappeared in 1974.

Claire Alden was eight years old when one night she was woken by some noise and found her beloved nanny, a young woman by the name of Emma covered in blood on the kitchen floor. Some time later she was scooped up and removed from the house. Her mother was in hospital and she was sent to stay with one of her friends with her young baby brother Robbie while she recovered. Her realisation that her father was suspected of the murder was slow but the effects it had bred an obsession that has lasted a lifetime.

In the present day Claire is a doctor. A caring woman who every now and again gives us a run-down of the ailments she’s treated that day. But she has a secret, her name isn’t Claire and she’s been in hiding for so very long whilst also watching, trying to find out what happened to her father. What sparks the latest flurry of obsession is that the police have been in touch, there has been a sighting and once again Claire lets herself believe that this might be the one, they actually might find him.
This is a dark book, full of foreboding as to what might be waiting for Claire. She looks back to their days in Belgravia followed by flight from the media and prying eyes to Scotland. What makes it all so much worse is her father’s friends seem to be working to a different reality. One where Claire’s mother had set him up for the murder, and that she’s an unfit mother.

Alongside the main theme is that of friendship, particularly that forged at a typically English public school with its societies where bonds are formed to last a lifetime no matter what. James and Rose were two of her parent’s best friends and so they are one of the subjects who Claire has tracked over the years. She’s followed them to work, she checks them out online and she wants to get inside their house and lives to find out what they know. There is a resentment that the life of privilege has not only protected her father but those friends who she suspects know more than they’ve ever let on.

Claire might be a highly functioning member of society but her younger brother has fared less well although he has no memory of their father it has marred his life too. These two damaged souls give the reader the chance to think about the often forgotten victims of crime. The children of murderers often overlooked and yet in this case they have grown up under a dark shadow indeed.

I was taken with the dual time line that works forward through the days from before the murder alongside Claire’s search for the truth. The tension is constant and the ending explosive.

I’d like to thank the publishers Orion for allowing me to read an advance review copy of A Double Life, a fascinating read that has already had me seeking out a copy of Flynn Berry’s debut novel Under the Harrow, winner of the Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 2017.

First Published UK: 31 July 2018
Publisher: Orion
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2018, Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2018

The Poisoner – Stephen Bates #20BooksofSummer

Non-Fiction
3*s

Well every year I like to explore my weird obsession with poisoners a little bit more and Dr William Palmer who was tried for the murder of his friend in 1856 by poisoning seemed a good place to travel to in this journey.

Stephen Bates has compiled his book based on the 12 day trial for poisoning his gambling partner by strychnine, one of the less common poisons to use. On 13 November 1855 Palmer’s friend John Parsons Cook was on a high, he’d managed to win, when he was lucky enough to win £3,000 at Shrewsbury races, Palmer’s horse didn’t win. That night the winner fell ill and the loser tended to him. Dr William Palmer had trained as a surgeon and at best was a small town GP but he’d given up that as a way to make money long ago and now he gambled and part-owned horses to make his living.

In order to set out the facts for us I have to commend the author for the amount of research into this case using amongst other items the newspapers of the day and the archives at both Kew and Stafford, the area in which the death of John Parsons Cook occurred. What follows was even for the day, a large number of deaths including his brother and a number of children, killed for the insurance money the prosecution ascertained. But why did Palmer kill his partner? What was the motive? Well according to the victim’s father it all hinged on his betting book, Cook hadn’t yet collected his winnings before falling ill but if that was the case, Palmer’s scheme failed because he wasn’t able to get his hands on them either.

Sadly the book itself was not written in the most sparkling of prose, it often got bogged down in the particulars losing sight somewhat of the overall story. Yes, it is non-fiction, but a good author, and editor, will keep the narrative moving along. Sadly there was repetition from the early chapters in the later ones, maybe the author was worried we’d lost track by then! The book starts well enough with a description of the day of the race, the subsequent illness and the calling of the doctor for assistance but later on we skip back to the other ‘mysterious deaths’ and a (very) long chapter on the racing world only to pick over the details of the crime again when it came to court. Perhaps a judicial editor could have made the entirety feel slightly less ‘stodgy’

That said, there was an awful lot to enjoy and many parts that I found fascinating, particularly the social history that backs up this particular crime. As always the newspaper coverage was interesting as was their horror at the number of people that turned up at the courts etc… you can always rely on the media to be the most hypocritical bunch. That might also be said about our dear friend Charles Dickens who pops up with regularity in all these Victorian trials, and hangings, bemoaning the popularity of events. It is rumoured that Inspector Bucket from Bleak House was modelled on the tenacious Charles Frederick Field who investigated the insurance angle of the crime.

Facts such as that this was the first trial moved from its home county following the Central Criminal Court Act 1856 being passed by an Act of Parliament due to the belief that the accused couldn’t possibly get a fair trial in Staffordshire; the trial was held at the Old Bailey instead, were stacked high and so on balance it was worth a read for an ardent follower of poisoners through the ages such as myself.

The Poisoner is my twelfth read in my 20 Books for Summer 2018 Challenge

First Published UK: 2014
Publisher: Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd
No of Pages: 324
Genre: Non-Fiction
Amazon UK
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Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2018, Book Review, Books I have read

American Heiress – Jeffrey Toobin #20BooksofSummer

Non-Fiction
4*s

Although I vaguely knew the story of Patsy Hearst it turns out I didn’t know very much at all, thanks to Jeffery Toobin I am now appraised not only about the facts of the case but of the political climate in the US at the time.

I’m not normally a fan of politics in my reading matter but without the political rhetoric, Patsy Hearst’s kidnapping would not have happened in the first place, we can’t begin to understand one without the other.

Patsy Hearst was a wealthy heiress to the Hearst’s family fortune. At the time of the kidnapping on 4 February 1974 she was living with her boyfriend, not exactly estranged from her family, but her mother in particular disapproved of her lifestyle. But Patsy was young, it was the 1970s and she was finding her feet. At the same time the self-styled revolutionaries calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army were looking to make the headlines and to do so they needed a story so they set-up a fairly shambolic kidnap. Luckily for them Patsy’s boyfriend wasn’t really up for a fight of any description and ran in the opposite direction. So Patsy was taken hostage and if you follow one point of view, she was brainwashed into becoming part of the Symbionese Liberation Army herself. The other point of view is that she didn’t need brainwashing, she believed in their aims. The world was all agog when two months later she was taped telling her family that this was what she wanted and she now had the nom de guerre “Tania.”

From the little I know it appears to me that this is an author who not only knows his stuff but is able to put it across so that those of us who have no understanding can access the information and gain an insight into the place, the times and the psychology of those involved. Jeffery Toobin explains how the family made its fortune and the reality, as opposed to the headlines, of what funds he was really able to raise.

But for me the best part of the book was to explain the era in terms of American social and political history. I won’t lie, I knew next to nothing to begin with so it could be called an ‘easy sell’ but I found the context and background really interesting. My précis of Jeffrey Toobin’s measured analysis was that there was a new angry generation wanting more financial security with fewer wars which they didn’t believe in with the result that domestic terrorism was booming. Sound familiar anyone?

What I had never appreciated before reading this book was that although the SLA were led by a male ex-prisoner with a somewhat erratic personality, there were a number of radical feminists in the group and therefore it was quite conceivable at that time that the former wealthy young Patricia was drawn to their cause. It therefore isn’t such a huge leap to understand that after the group became separated that the fight for survival was all that mattered. There are lots of shocking facts in this part of the story which I was completely unaware of but I’m pleased to say the tone of the book remains factual.

Nor does the author spend a lot of time trying to convince us of Patricia’s culpability or otherwise, he presents the facts and sometimes gives us one view or another but he plays it fairly straight. It is really up to the reader to decide and play the psychoanalyst with the tools he has provided.

Overall the book is a comprehensive look at the kidnap, the intervening years that Patricia Hearst spent as a revolutionary plus short book-ends on her life as a child and what happened afterwards.

“In the end, notwithstanding a surreal detour in the 1970s, Patricia led the life she for which she was destined back in Hillsborough. The story of Patricia Hearst, as extraordinary as it once was, had a familiar, even predictable ending. She did not turn into a revolutionary. She turned into her mother.”

American Heiress is my ninth read in my 20 Books for Summer 2018 Challenge and one that I feel has broadened my understanding of an era as well as educating me about a story I thought I knew about, but it turns out I didn’t really know anything at all. Now I do!

First Published UK: 2 August 2016
Publisher: Doubleday
No of Pages:432
Genre: Non-Fiction
Amazon UK
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2018

The Killing of Georgie Moore – Colin Evans

Non-Fiction
5*s

Another Victorian true crime this time entirely factual using evidence from the trial of Esther Pay who stood trial for the murder of seven-year old Georgie Moore.

I’m not going to rehash the entire sequence of events, or the outcome of the trial, if you want to know you should really read this for yourself. Instead, having read a fair few of this type of non-fiction reads I’m going to explain quite why this one was awarded the full five stars.

To understand the trial the reader needs to have some idea of the setting, the prime players in the crime, and their circumstances. The setting of course when dealing with historical crimes needs to accurately reconstruct the time period. And Colin Evans did this so well. In short Georgie’s father Stephen is a cad. He has seduced women up and down the country and the author explains how, contrary to our view of the Victorians this was entirely feasible with one in three marriages in the lower classes being undertaken while the woman was pregnant. Esther Pay,the accused by contrast had no children but she did have a husband who was fond of drink and routinely beat her, again not so uncommon for the times. We learn about the multiple dwellings of the key players and their interactions and pastimes. We are also treated to the background of the Police at the time, the difference between those in plain clothes and those in uniform along with their recent humiliation at the hands of the press. All of this is, in my view, essential to the reader to fully understand the crime and investigation in full.

The author has clearly done his research into this little known crime and all through the book he gives us the touchstone in the way of this to aid the reader’s understanding and in a tone that makes for appealing reading, always using his pen to paint the scene.

“Labourers who’d finished their work on this Saturday midday had slaked their thirsts and fuelled their tempers in the local inn before joining the crush. A few made the sign of the cross as the cortege edged past. Others were more concerned with pulling their raggedy clothes more tightly about their malnourished bodies in an effort to ward off shivers induced by the twin assaults of sub-zero temperatures and infectious mob sentiment.”

Of course the really interesting stuff is the trial itself and this one is a doozy with many adjournments at the pre-trial hearings as the police, led by Scotland Yard’s Inspector Marshall, and the defence go off to find their evidence building their respective cases brick by brick. Even to get this far had been a feat as little Georgie’s body had been found in Yalding in Kent but she had disappeared from near her school gates in Pimlico London. Of course by rights the local Kent Constabulary thought the trial should be there whereas Inspector Marshall thought otherwise…

“But Marshall was already displaying the heavy-handed insensitivity towards provincial forces that Scotland Yard would elevate to an art form over the next half century. He saw no reason to cede control of a high-profile murder investigation to a bunch of apple-munching yokels who would probably only foul up the case. No, this was his collar, his case, his glory, and he didn’t intend sharing it with anyone.”

The trial was engaging and even the outcome wasn’t really a surprise, you can never be sure with these historical crimes! I’m exceptionally pleased to say that this author didn’t sit on the fence, after all the evidence he has sifted through, he’s come up with his own theory. I’m not convinced that it covers all the unanswered questions, but it certainly hangs together well enough for me to feel that this was a piece of research well rounded-off.

This book is my 23rd read in my Mount TBR challenge 2018 having been purchased on 29 December 2017 and one that has prompted me to seek out more work by this author of 17 books dealing with forensics and true crime.

First Published UK: 2013
Publisher: Colin Evans
No of Pages: 495
Genre: Non-Fiction
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Conan Doyle for the Defence – Margalit Fox

Non-Fiction
4*s

Conan Doyle for the Defence was a real treat for someone who loves historical true crime and into the bargain I got to know a little more about the creator of Sherlock Holmes.

The true crime is the brutal murder of Marion Gilchrist. A wealthy elderly spinster who lived in a secure apartment, almost paranoid about her precious jewels being stolen. She was pretty much estranged from most of her family and lived with her maid Helen Lambie in a tightly organised fashion as you’d expect from a woman of her class. On 21 December 1908 Helen Lambie left the house to buy the paper and by the time she returned a little more than ten minutes later, her employer was dead. Fortunately Helen, along with the downstairs neighbour had caught a passing glimpse of the murderer and she was also able to identify a missing diamond crescent-shaped brooch.

The police were involved and from the passing of time it is clear to see that the man they pursued, a Jewish man called Oscar Slater, was done for all the wrong reasons. Margalit Fox takes us through the anti-Semitic sentiment of the times and the fear of those immoral trades which Oscar also seemed to be caught up in.

The author also treats us to an explanation of how easy it is to identify the wrong man, especially if the police kindly give some clues as to who they think is the perpetrator of a crime.

To cut a long, but interesting story short, Oscar Slater is convicted of murder and Conan Doyle became interested in the case, but equally interestingly, he didn’t rate the man himself. The author then draws parallels between Conan Doyle’s work as a doctor and the skills needed to solve a crime. Working back from what is known, the symptoms or the body through the absolute facts. Something that didn’t happen with the police work carried out in Glasgow when Marion Gilchrist’s body was found! There are also parallels between Conon Doyle’s deductive skills (I’m not going to mention the lengthy explanation on how he actually practiced abduction) and those of his fictional detective which the author ascribes to his mentor at medical school who used his own keen observations to work out a person’s profession, address and other details from the mud on his shoe or the amount of lint on his hat.

I was absolutely fascinated by this read, there was a lot of information and one couldn’t help but wonder how Oscar coped with nearly two decades of being in Petershead prison with his family far away in Germany. When you consider he had no correspondence with them for the entirety of the WWI his fortitude is even more astounding.

Of course any book of this nature can if care is not taken to take an incredulous tone, it is after all easy to be wise at this distance of time, but the author did keep any such observations relevant to the time of the crime, relaying the disquiet of the wider public once the initial hysteria had died down. All in all this was a sad episode in criminal justice and it is thanks to Conan Doyle that the case was re-examined. Interestingly Oscar Slater was one of the reasons that the appeals court was set up. One of many, many interesting facts I learnt from Margalit Fox!

I’d like to thank the publishers Profile Books for allowing me to read an advance copy of Conan Doyle for the Defence which was published on 21 June 2018.

First Published UK: 21 June 2018
Publisher: Profile Books
No of Pages: 344
Genre: Non-Fiction
Amazon UK
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2018

Crippen: A Novel of Murder – John Boyne

Historical Crime Fiction
4*s

This is now the third book I’ve read by this author and Crippen is a fictionalised version of the case of Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen and the murder of his wife of which he was convicted and hanged in 1910.

It could be said that when you know the ending to a story that it will remove all suspense from the reading (or in my case listening) but this book defies that notion. Yes, I knew that Hawley Crippen’s wife Cora was poisoned then dismembered and her torso found under the floor of the cellar of 39 Hilldrop Crescent, Camden and having a somewhat grisly nature I know quite a bit about the events that are considered to lead up to the discovery, but to say I wasn’t captivated by John Boyne’s interpretation and imagination, would be an outright lie.

The story takes us back to Crippen’s earliest days where it appears John Boyne has invented quite a bit to create the most sympathetic view of the child growing into a man who longs to be a doctor. However the story also flips forwards in time to the ship the SS Montrose where John Robinson and his seventeen year old son Edmund board in Antwerp to make the journey to Canada to start a new life. John Robinson is a Doctor and the pair travel first class.

The journey across the Atlantic was probably my favourite part of the whole book. The passengers included the most hideous Antonia Drake and her spoilt daughter Victoria as well as the far more balanced Frenchman Mathieu Zela travelling with his nephew and the unassuming Martha Hayes. There are moments of almost farcical nature as despite the plan to keep a low profile John Robinson is in high demand to socialise with his fellow passengers, as is young Edmund.

Things weren’t an awful lot better in the past as we follow Crippen through his apprenticeship in an abattoir to fund his medical diplomas, his first marriage and the beginning of his relationship with Cora, a music hall performer who he eventually moves to England with. I’ve condensed this to a few sentences but the author carefully lays the basis for the part that all the readers know is on the way, and his answer to the question what led the mild mannered Crippen to butcher Cora and then recklessly move his lover, Ethel Le Neve into Hilltop Crescent? Once again along this tour we meet some truly memorable characters, most of them pretty awful but, oh so entertaining for being so. What struck me most was how much the social rules of the time seem to have played a part in the actual discovery of the murder and the interaction between the friend who first reported her suspicions to the hapless constable at Scotland Yard was one of my favourite scenes.

So yes there is tension, as much about how having started the story with the underdog Crippen we were going to get to the finale of the hanging. I’m not going to dissect this part but I for one wasn’t wholly convinced by the explanation, but it was a clever route to take and therefore bearing in mind this is a fictionalised tale, albeit with some of the key players, including Inspector Dew, the plotting was in place so it didn’t come out of nowhere; In short if I didn’t have my own views it was plausible. But most of all the and the journey both on land and at sea was exceptionally entertaining. The characters from the ship’s crew to the minor players really do carry this story especially as we all know the ending!

This isn’t a book to read if you want the absolute facts of the case, but if you want to be entertained this is the perfect platform to either take a look at Crippen from a slightly different angle, or simply to read a gripping tale.

I listened to this book in audio format, it had been on my TBR since January 2016 but regular readers will know i repeatedly struggled with listening rather than reading. I’m glad to say this book proved I could do it and the day it ended when I was only halfway through my walk home, I felt utterly bereft after all Crippen had accompanied me on walks and whilst knitting over a total of 17 hours and 43 minutes and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it aided by the wonderful narration by James Daniel Wilson.

This is the second fictionalised story I’ve read about this case, Martin Edwards wrote his version called Dancing for the Hangman which I  highly recommend.

First Published UK: 2004
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 512
Genre: Historical Crime Fiction
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