cover image A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies, and a Murder Plot in the Houses of Parliament

A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies, and a Murder Plot in the Houses of Parliament

John Preston. Other, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-59051-814-4

In 1979, Jeremy Thorpe, a popular member of Parliament, stood trial over claims that he hired an assassin to murder model Norman Scott, who claimed to be Thorpe’s ex-lover. In this addictive true crime account of one of Britain’s greatest political scandals, London-based novelist Preston (The Dig) chronicles Thorpe’s early, secretive love life, at a time when sodomy was still illegal, and his exposure. Thorpe is portrayed as repressed and concerned with his public image and political career; he involved colleagues in schemes lasting years to silence Scott. Though Scott had a cache of Thorpe’s incriminating letters as evidence, Thorpe always maintained that they were never lovers. Drawing from Scott’s memoir and documents from Peter Bessell, a political colleague of Thorpe’s with a checkered business past, Preston blends factual with farcical, recounting, for example, a horrifying incident with Thorpe’s helicopter and a protester standing too close to the rotor blade—a huge clump of hair seen on the ground turned out to be a muddy wig blown off. The trial near the end is riveting, with Thorpe’s lawyer demolishing Scott’s and Bessell’s credibility; Thorpe was acquitted. Preston caps off the dramatic account by discussing the widely held belief that the acquittal was an establishment cover-up, even though Thorpe never regained his career, and died in 2014. Though knee-deep in politics, scandal, and betrayal, the book also conveys the sobering, grim reality of lives destroyed by dirty politics and homophobic culture. [em](Oct.) [/em]