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
Saturday Review of Literature, Jan. 12, 2019
2 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2019
Date Written: January 12, 2019
Let us be clear up front: You will enjoy and appreciate Margalit Fox’s Conan Doyle for the Defense. It is an intellectually engaging, historically enlightening, thought-provoking page-turner in which Fox (the long-time, just-retired Obituaries editor of the New York Times) weaves together two enthralling stories. Both spring from the brutal death-by-blunt-instrument of Marion Gilchrist in her Glasgow, Scotland, apartment on December 21, 1908. The first story chronicles an appalling 20-year run of incompetence and dishonesty by officers of the law — police, prosecutors, and judges. And they were not alone. They had the help of mendacious witnesses and biased experts. This travesty of justice began in the winter of 1908-09 with the Glasgow police force’s hurried, ad hoc framing of Oscar Slater for the murder of Gilchrist. Next it zipped speedily into the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh for a kangaroo-court prosecution of Slater in early May 1909. Then it slowed to a crawl as it ground through his long imprisonment from 1909 to 1927, during which high government officials repeatedly exerted themselves to ignore or even cover up the failures and evil-doing that ran through the investigation, prosecution, and imprisonment from beginning to end. The second story — a tale of inspiring intelligence, integrity, and courage — is about the long struggle to undo the first story. Its highlights include a noble but unsuccessful attempt by an honest cop to expose the frame-up, a brilliant debunking of the case against Slater by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and, finally, the successful campaign by Doyle and others to free Slater from prison.
Keywords: Sherlock, Holmes, Germany, Edwardian, Victorian, Jews, Havelock Ellis, Francis Galton, Cesare Lombroso, Criminology, Suffrage, Divorce, Scientific Reasoning
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