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Review: Conan Doyle for the Defence

I was supplied with a free copy of this book for the purposes of review.

Arthur Conan Doyle's forays into the world of true crime and miscarriages of justice are well known. Amongst these the two most famous and chronicled are the George Edalji case and the Oscar Slater case. Of these the former is the most often discussed and it has been suggested that this is down to the fact that Edalji was a fine upstanding member of the community whereas Slater was not (or certainly not perceived as such).

The two cases share wrongful conviction and imprisonment in common as well as a significant dose of gruesomeness; but where  Edalji was imprisoned for supposedly mutilating horses and cattle Slater was imprisoned, and nearly hanged, for murder.

The Oscar Slater case is a well travelled route for writers even if it is not yet the trampled path that the Edalji case has become. You therefore are bound to wonder what a new book can bring to the subject.

Fox sets the scene well. She describes the pertinent facts of the case as well as the background against which it was set. She thus shines a light on the uncomfortable prejudices that enabled Slater to be tried and convicted even when most of the evidence against him had been acknowledged to be worthless.

Toughill's book is the best I have read prior to this
However the level of background could be seen as excessive and, in some cases, not even pertinent. Fox devotes whole chapters to aspects of Conan Doyle's background and the history of criminology with Oscar Slater's name not even getting a mention. There is, for example, a whole chapter devoted to a high-level view of the Edalji case. As I worked my way through the book I was occasionally left wondering if this was a book about the Oscar Slater case or a book about Victorian attitudes to crime with the Slater case as the main example of how these attitudes could influence justice (or injustice). By the time I reached the end I had finally decided it was the former.

Unlike some other writers Fox lays as much emphasis on Slater's time in prison as she does on the trial. In other books I've read the trial and appeals are discussed at length but Slater's time in prison (and his increasingly desperate communication with his family) has not been given the same level of exposure. This was a pleasant surprise and helps to mark Fox's book out.

If you are new to the Slater case and desire a book on the subject you would make a good purchase with this volume. However, if you already own books on the Slater case and are not a completist you might not find enough in this book that is new to warrant adding it to your shelves.

Personally, as a Doyle devotee, I would happily have purchased this book and am happy to recommend it to anyone who shares my interest.


Written by Alistair Duncan Buy my books here
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