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

Margalit Fox. Random House, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-0-399-58945-4
New York Times senior writer Fox (The Riddle of the Labyrinth) brings to life a forgotten cause célèbre in this page-turning account of how mystery-writer-turned-real life sleuth Arthur Conan Doyle helped exonerate a man who was wrongfully convicted of murder. In 1908, Marion Gilchrist was found bludgeoned to death in her Glasgow home. Early into the investigation, the police centered their suspicions on Oscar Slater, a German Jew expat and known gambler, who was eventually convicted of the murder based on such shoddy evidence as the fact that he’d pawned a brooch similar to one owned by Gilchrist that was missing from the scene of the crime. When Slater’s attorneys reached out to Conan Doyle after the trial, the author investigated the case using the method of rational inquiry that was inspired by his medical training and was the hallmark of his famous creation, Sherlock Holmes. Through “Holmesian acumen and Watsonian lucidity, [Conan Doyle] dismantles the Slater case plank by plank,” Fox writes, starting with the brooch, which he deemed inconsequential: first, because it was not a match for the missing one, and, secondly, because it had been pawned by Slater before Gilchrist’s death. Taking a cue from Conan Doyle, Fox then uses the brooch to show how Slater was likely framed for the crime, and how both class bias and anti-Semitism influenced the rush to convict him. The author’s exhaustive research and balanced analysis make this a definitive account, with pertinent repercussions for our times. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/16/2018
Release date: 06/26/2018
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