Thursday, November 15, 2018

Book Review: Conan Doyle for the Defense: The True Story of a Sensational British Murder, a Quest for Justice, and the World's Most Famous Detective Writer by Margalit Fox, narrated by Peter Forbes

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle didn't just make up Sherlock Holmes from whole cloth. He was based on a professor Conan Doyle had in medical school. And also on Conan Doyle's own experiences as a doctor. What Holmes does is similar to taking a detailed case history, and diagnosing the problem. And therefore it should be a shock that his creator, a physician, did occasionally solve crimes himself.

Marion Gilchrist was an elderly, wealthy woman living in Glasgow with her maid, mostly estranged from her family. She was murdered one evening as her maid went out to get the paper. Despite descriptions that didn't resemble him at all, and despite having alibi witnesses, Oscar Slater, a German Jewish immigrant to Scotland who had lived an itinerant, not always above-board life, became an easy scapegoat for the police. After all, he'd recently pawned a half-moon brooch like the one missing from Miss Gilchrist's apartment. Of course, he'd pawned it BEFORE the murder and he'd pawned it previously since he'd owned it for years and it didn't resemble Miss Gilchrist's brooch at all. Nevertheless, the police persisted in believing he was their man! He was convicted and sentenced to death. Nearly immediately doubt crept in, and his sentence was commuted to hard labor. He was eligible for parole after 15 years but it was denied because they didn't want him in Scotland and he'd been gone from Germany so long, he'd lost his citizenship there.

Meanwhile, Conan Doyle got involved to right this injustice. Like Mr. Holmes, Conan Doyle solved the case from his home without ever seeing the evidence, on the basis of testimony and journalism, through adduction (in the Holmes novels he calls his logical process deduction but that's inaccurate.) But it still took a very, very long time to free Slater. Not only were the police recalcitrant, but there was no appeals system at all at this time in Scotland.

This was a fun book about a once-famous but now little-known case, and a bit of trivia write large that illustrated pretty well the changes between the Victoria age and the modern world.

I downloaded this audiobook from the library via Libby/Overdrive.

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