In the spirit of World Book Day, Jessica Ritchie, Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Northampton, recommends her favourite true crime novel this year.
‘Conan Doyle for the Defence’ written by Margalit Fox satisfies a number of my academic interests – for that of true crime, evidence law, and wrongful convictions. Fox brings the real life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to us. Not only was Conan Doyle the author that brought Sherlock Holmes to life, but he was also an advocate for those who had been wrongfully convicted.
‘Conan Doyle for the Defence’ is the story of Oscar Slater, a ‘shady’ German Jew who was convicted of the murder of wealthy 82-year-old Marion Gilchrist in 1908, in Glasgow. It is suspected that Gilchrist was targeted because she kept her jewels littered and hidden throughout her house. Slater was arrested for Gilchrist’s murder, however even before Slater’s arrest he was being monitored by the Glasgow police – as he was considered an ‘outsider’ as an immigrant.
Fox weaves the story of Oscar Slater, Conan Doyle, and Victorian society together. Like a page out of Sherlock Holmes, this case comes to Conan Doyle’s attention through a waterproof note smuggled out of prison hidden under false teeth.
Conan Doyle starts his investigation and work on this case at his own expense. Through his investigation it is found there are a number of concerns with the original conviction – changing eyewitness identifications and incorrect forensic evidence (blood could’ve been ‘more of gravy than of grave’). Not only was Slater released (after almost two decades of work). The notoriety of Conan Doyle’s work contributed to the establishment of England’s first criminal appeals court – which I found be especially fascinating.
A number of concerns which are raised throughout the book and allows us as readers to consider the similarities that continue to exist in society. This is a very interesting and informative read!