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Conan Doyle for the Defence by Margalit Fox

Conan Doyle for the DefenceIn 1908, an 82-year-old spinster, Marion Gilchrist, was found bludgeoned to death in her own Glasgow home. The police soon had who they believed was the culprit – a German Jew called Oscar Slater. Despite having an alibi, Slater was convicted and sentenced to death before having his sentence commuted to life imprisonment in Peterhead Prison. Seventeen years later, William Gordon, a fellow inmate, was released, taking with him a smuggled message from Slater to someone who he thought could help him to clear his name – the writer Arthur Conan Doyle. This is the story of how the Sherlock Holmes writer helped to free the man who had become the subject of a huge miscarriage of justice.

In recent years, mainly thanks to the BBC Sherlock series, there has been a renewed interest in the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The TV adaptation of Arthur and George by Julian Barnes also introduced the public to how, although Sherlock Holmes was a fictional character, Conan Doyle was certainly not and, he too, dabbled in detection.

Conan Doyle for the Defence has police corruption, ineptitude and racial prejudice at its core. Shortly after the elderly woman’s murder, those responsible for finding the culprit had their sights firmly set on Oscar Slater. Despite him having an alibi, having no knowledge of the dead woman and there being no evidence whatsoever, Slater was arrested, tried for her murder and subsequently sentenced to death. This was commuted to life imprisonment and he would spend the following decades incarcerated in one of the toughest prisons in Scotland. Conan Doyle would spend many years trying to help to free him and even published The Case of Oscar Slater in 1912.

It is clear that the author has done much research into the case and, as a result, has provided a comprehensive overview of the trial, incarceration and release of Slater. The transcriptions of correspondence between himself and his family were particularly moving and really brought home how his family, themselves suffering due to the First World War, never gave up hope that, one day, justice would finally prevail.

I found Conan Doyle for the Defence a fascinating read, leaving me with a sense of despair that the justice system allowed this to happen. Highly recommended to those who enjoy reading true crime and any Sherlock Holmes fans.

With thanks to Net Galley and Serpent’s Tail / Profile Books for my ARC.

Purchase the book here: Conan Doyle for the Defence

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Member of the Family: Manson, Murder and Me by Dianne Lake and Deborah Herman

51wTNZH99oLWhen fourteen-year-old Dianne Lake encountered the enigmatic Charles Manson and his ‘Family’, little did she know the huge effect it was going to have on her life. Now, fifty years later, Dianne is telling her story – a first-hand story of her experiences with one of the most heinous characters in American history, and what a story it is…

Over the years, I have read several books about Charles Manson, including one written as a result of interviews with the man himself. Where this book differs, though, is that it is affording us a first-hand account of someone who lived through the free-love era of late-1960s America as part of Manson’s ‘Family’.

The first third of the book details Dianne’s early life, which was far from conventional. Born into a seemingly typical family, secrets begin to rear their heads and soon, her parents make the decision to ‘drop out’ of normal society. This action set the tone for the rest of Dianne’s life, as they moved from place to place, taking drugs and living in several communal habitations. When she made the decision to go it alone, I found it hard to remember that she was only fourteen at the time. It was clear to see that she craved some normality and would have loved to have had the opportunity to attend school and make something of herself. The actions of her parents, though, were the first steps into pushing her towards Manson.

When we finally meet Charlie Manson, there is no immediate indication of what is to come. Initially, Dianne gets what she yearns for – a family who look out for each other. As time progresses, though, Manson’s true nature begins to emerge and it is interesting to read that, with hindsight, Dianne wished that she had noticed these signs and got away whilst she had the chance. Such was Manson’s pull, though, and the fact that she felt she was in love with him, she remained in his clutches until he was arrested. It was difficult to read about the abuse she endured during her time with the ‘Family’ and how her skewed idea of what was normal didn’t give her the impetus to run away.

If you read this hoping to find out more about the Tate/LaBianca killings, then you are going to be disappointed as this is not the purpose of the book. Dianne was not part of the atrocities but became aware of them after the fact. Repulsed by what she found out and realising the true nature of the man she adored, it became a relief when they were finally picked up by the authorities and she could start to remove traces of the cult from her life. It was pleasing to read how Dianne managed to turn her life around, thanks to the kindness of a police officer and also how she found happiness with a husband and the real family she had always longed for.

Member of the Family is a fascinating, well-written read and I sincerely hope that Dianne continues to live a happy life, free from memories of the past.

With thanks to Rosie Margesson and Harper Collins UK for my copy of the book.

 

Girl A: My Story

51Ry-oprklLAfter watching the harrowing three-part BBC Drama, Three Girls, earlier this year, I felt compelled to read the book detailing the case, written by the girl who became known as ‘Girl A’. This is a true story of how a group of young girls were groomed by a gang of Asian men and systematically abused over a period of years. ‘Girl A’ became the key witness, helping to convict these men of their heinous crimes.

First of all, I must point out that this is not an easy read, but nor should it be. It is very graphic in parts but this is essential in order to understand what this fifteen-year-old girl was subjected to on a daily basis. It is, however, well-written and paints a clear picture of the girl we get to know as ‘Hannah’ (not her real name), and how scared and despair-filled she was as she desperately tried to escape the clutches of this notorious child sex ring.

It soon becomes apparent that the BBC series, as disturbing as it was, actually missed out an awful lot of the story. If that was distressing, then Girl A takes it to another level as we find out about the fear she had for ‘Emma’, another young girl who acted as a go-between, providing the girls for the older men. It is easy to wonder why ‘Hannah’ stayed when she had the opportunity to reveal the truth so many times, but her fear of ‘Emma’ and the Asian men, coupled with the reluctance of the authorities to act meant that she felt she had no choice.

What does come through the book is the intelligence and bravery shown by ‘Hannah’ in order to bring the culprits to justice. She speaks often of the qualifications she managed to achieve despite the traumatic times she was experiencing – I really hope that’s she has been able to put these to good use and is now living a happy life with her daughter.

 

A Very British Murder by Lucy Worsley

18042000For a long time, the British public has had an interest in murder, whether it be fictional or true crime. In A Very British Murder, Lucy Worsley looks at this interest in great detail, exploring cases such as the Ratcliff Highway and Road Hill Murders, before moving onto how crimes were reported and how they inspired detective fiction.

This is a book that has been on my TBR pile for a while and, as it’s been a while since I’ve read anything non-fiction, I decided it was time to give it a try. After watching the accompanying television series, I was looking forward to reading Lucy Worsley’s take on some of the cases I have enjoyed reading about over the years.

If you are looking for a straightforward compendium of British crime, then this is not the book for you. It does mention some of the more well-known crimes (I was particularly pleased to see the murder of Julia Wallace included, albeit fleetingly) but the emphasis is firmly placed on the public fascination for these events. I must admit, though, that these were the sections I enjoyed the most, even though I had read about most of the cases before!

Much of the book is devoted to the growth of the crime fiction genre from the likes of Wilkie Collins and Arthur Conan Doyle to the ‘golden age’ of detection with authors such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers. There is even a modern slant where Worsley briefly discusses how these books and cases are being brought to life on television in the guise of Whitechapel, Ripper Street and The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. My only concern here is that the author gives out some major spoilers and there are certainly now some books that I no longer need to read!

Lucy Worsley’s writing style is very easy to follow and makes for an enjoyable read.

The Sixth Victim by Tessa Harris

Like the rest of Whitechapel, Constance Piper is living in fear of the unknown killer that roams the streets at night – Jack the Ripper. After witnessing a stage hypnotist perform his act, however, Constance has not been feeling herself and begins to think that she has somehow acquired the powers of second sight. She is soon contacted by a lady who fears that the latest victim may be her missing sister – can Constance use her skills to unmask the killer? Just when she needs her help the most, Constance’s teacher and friend, Emily Tindall, has also gone missing. Is her disappearance linked to the man known as the Whitechapel Killer?

The Sixth Victim is a fictional tale set during 1888 when the infamous serial killer, Jack the Ripper, was striking fear across the whole of the east end of London. I originally thought that this was going to be another take on this age-old mystery but was pleased to discover that it merely provided a backdrop for the main plot and the focus was placed on the missing women and a torso that had been found in another part of London.

I warmed to Constance very quickly – a girl who, although living amongst abject poverty, longs to better herself in order to find a way out of the slums of the east end. In The Sixth Victim, the author has managed to create a very colourful image of Whitechapel, showing a stark contrast between the lives of the unfortunate inhabitants to that of the more well-to-do who live in the grand houses and hotels of London. It was easy to imagine (even with out the aid of Constance’s second sight) the sounds and smells of the area and understand why the women of that time lived in constant fear.

I was not sure what to expect when a supernatural element was introduced to the story as this is not my favourite genre of writing, but I felt that it was written well and allowed the plot to move on at a steady pace. It also appears to show how other subsequent books in the series could take shape. Overall, the plot was a good one and I liked how the author has seamlessly merged fact with fiction.

A great read which promises to be the start of a fascinating new series.

With thanks to Net Galley and Kensington Books for the ARC.

Walter Dew: The Man Who Caught Crippen by Nicholas Connell

51z4a1hexblPerhaps most known for his transatlantic chase to apprehend the suspected murderer Dr. Crippen and his alleged accomplice Ethel Le Neve, Walter Dew: The Man Who Caught Crippen tells the story of the detective’s humble beginnings to his retirement from the police force after almost thirty years of service. Containing original research and excerpts from Dew’s own biography, Nicholas Connell gives a fascinating insight into one of the twentieth century’s most notorious criminal cases.

As someone who has an interest in nineteenth and early twentieth century crime, this book begged to be bought when I saw it at a local bookshop. I had also wanted to read more about Walter Dew after reading the fictional The False Inspector Dew by Peter Lovesey. I have read many books of this genre and find that, sometimes, there can be too much emphasis placed on quoting trial transcripts ad verbatim. This was not the case here and I found this book a very easy yet informative read.

Although much of the book is taken up, understandably, by the Crippen case, I was pleased to see that there was also a large section devoted to Dew’s involvement in the Jack the Ripper investigation. Dew’s recollections of being one of the first policemen on the scene of the Mary Jane Kelly murder were absorbing and gives readers an awareness of how horrific it must have been to witness what he did.

I was also pleased to see a little cameo role for the pathologist Bernard Spilsbury – a personal favourite of mine!

Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in true crime.

Scotland Yard’s First Cases by Joan Lock

51dify3x7glWhen you think of Victorian policing, the first thing that probably pops into your head is the hunt for Jack the Ripper. From a twenty-first century perspective, the methods undertaken by these officers seem primitive but, compared to when Scotland Yard’s first Detective branch was set up in 1842, they were actually quite organised.  In this book, Joan Lock discusses some of the more well-known cases investigated by the early Scotland Yard detectives along with many of the lesser-known ones.

As someone who is fascinated by Victorian crime, this book looked to be exactly the sort I would love to read, not least because the sub-heading, ‘A Window into the World of Mr. Whicher’, refers to the detective known for investigating the infamous Road Hill House murder. In the end, Whicher plays only a very small role in this book and the aforementioned case, the murder of Savile Kent, is only discussed briefly.

I found some of the cases more interesting to read about than others, although the main emphasis is not on the actual cases themselves but on the methods used to bring the culprits to justice. Joan Lock has certainly researched well in order to show how difficult it was for the police of their day in a job that was underpaid and where they had to face untold danger on a daily basis. It soon becomes apparent that a lot of cases were solved, not as a result of the forensic evidence that is used so much today, but due to the doggedness of the detectives and, often, by complete luck.

For anyone interested in the advent of the police force or Victorian crime in general, then this book is a must-read.

With thanks to Netgalley and Endeavour Press for the ARC.

 

 

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