Book Review: Oscar Slater - The 'Immortal' Case of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Now this is a not a new book but, as it has formed part of my research, I felt I owed it a review.

As a student of Conan Doyle I was, of course, aware of the Slater case. This case and that of George Edalji are Conan Doyle's two great fights against injustice.

I am currently working on a biography of Conan Doyle that covers this period so I have naturally been reading up on what's out there. My book will only carry a basic account of this event but I would like to take this opportunity to direct my readers to an interesting book.

For the benefit of those not in the know the case concerned the murder, in Glasgow, of one Marion Gilchrist - an 83 year old spinster.

The victim

Towards the end of December 1908 she was found battered to death in her own living room.

The scene of the crime. The battered body was found near the fireplace

The only item identified as missing was a diamond brooch. When police learned that Oscar Slater had been seen attempting to sell a pawn ticket for such a brooch he was deemed to be involved. By this time Slater was in America in an attempt to start a new life. Amazingly, despite learning that the pawn ticket was for a different brooch, Scottish authorities sought Slater's extradition. He returned to Scotland and was, against all reason and with no evidence, put on trial.

Slater on trial

At the end of the trial, during which evidence was heard that should not have been admitted and witnesses changed their testimony, Slater was convicted and sentenced to death. This was later commuted to life imprisonment. Conan Doyle took up the case, which gave it the profile it needed, and helped expose corruption and incompetence at the highest levels of the Scottish justice system.

The book is an excellent account of the case and is an update of an earlier version. Regrettably it has been poorly proof-read with the result that there are errors in spelling and grammar. If you can look past these the book contains much of interest.

I give it four out of five with the one star deducted for the poor proof-reading.

Written by Alistair Duncan
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