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Posted October 13, 2001
Sleuthing On Real Cases in Print!
Truth is always stranger than fiction. In this interesting book, we see the messiness of real cases and the potential for miscarriages of justice. What¿s a intrepid author of detective stories to do but dive right in! This book will be most appealing to those who want to see how a writer of detective fiction could do with really solving cases. If you prefer the neatness of fiction, you will probably not enjoy this book. The book begins with a brief biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. At the end of the biography is a brief overview of the two real-life crime cases in which he became involved after the fact in trying to help people he viewed as innocent. In the first case, that of George Ernest Thompson Edalji, a young solicitor of exemplary character is accused and convicted of mutilating a horse. The man had long been the object of accusatory letters to the police. The motive seems to have been prejudice against a family of Indian descent While Mr. Edalji was in prison, Sir Arthur began a newspaper campaign to free Mr. Edalji. In the course of trying to free Mr. Edalji, Sir Arthur makes lots of mistakes that delay the progress of the public protest. Pretending to know more about optics than he did, Doyle created much confusion that initially made some think the worse of Mr. Edalji. Gradually, the right evidence emerged. One of the most fascinating parts of the case is the public challenge that Sir Arthur made to the conclusions of a handwriting ¿expert.¿ Unlike fictional stories, there are loose ends that will never be resolved. That makes thinking about the case all that much more interesting. Most of the book is made up of this case. The material includes the letters by Sir Arthur to the newspapers, official reports, letters to the editors by those who support and oppose Sir Arthur¿s attempts, expert commentaries, and evaluations by other media of the case. Mr. Edalji was released from imprisonment after 3 years, but given no pardon. Sir Arthur kept on. Eventually, a commission was established that found Mr. Edalji deserved a pardon. Along the way, you will find many humorous circumstances. The police appear to have fabricated evidence. The police also suspected that Mr. Edalji might molest an animal and had him under surveillance. Their case depended on Mr. Edalji having sneaked past four policemen from a locked room in which he slept with his light-sleeping father, the vicar. Mr. Edalji was so nearsighted that he could probably not have even found the animal in the dark. The second case concerns Oscar Slater, a ¿blackguard¿ who was German Jew by origin. Based on questionable eyewitness testimony, Mr. Slater was brought back from New York to stand trial for beating an elderly woman to death to get her diamond brooch. The closest connection that Mr. Slater had was that he had pawned a different diamond brooch of similar value belonging to his live-in lady friend at about the same time. Mr. Slater spent 18 years in jail before being released. He eventually got a pardon and some recompense for the error. Mr. Slater refused to repay Sir Arthur for the sums expended on his behalf. So much for gratitude! As in the earlier case, the police seem to have been involved in some wrong-doing to protect a prominent person from being accused. One detective had his career ruined in the process of persevering. Prejudice against the foreigner also played a role. There is also some suggestion that the police didn¿t want to arrest Slater, but wanted to make it look like they had found the guilty party. He may have surprised them by voluntarily coming back for trial. Sir Arthur had learned his lesson. He was much more careful in the way that he conducted his defense, and made many fewer errors. He also knew that he could not rely on public opinion to support someone who was not a very desirable character. These two cases cerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.