Publication Date: 28th June 2018
Received via Netgalley in return for an honest review
Arthur and George meets The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: how the creator of Sherlock Holmes overturned one of the great miscarriages of justice.
Just before Christmas 1908, Marion Gilchrist, a wealthy 82-year-old spinster, was found bludgeoned to death in her Glasgow home. A valuable diamond brooch was missing, and police soon fastened on a suspect – Oscar Slater, a Jewish immigrant who was rumoured to have a disreputable character. Slater had an alibi, but was nonetheless convicted and sentenced to death, later commuted to life imprisonment in the notorious Peterhead Prison.
Seventeen years later, a convict called William Gordon was released from Peterhead. Concealed in a false tooth was a message, addressed to the only man Slater thought could help him – Arthur Conan Doyle. Always a champion of the downtrodden, Conan Doyle turned his formidable talents to freeing Slater, deploying a forensic mind worthy of Sherlock Holmes.
Drawing from original sources including Oscar Slater’s prison letters, this is Margalit Fox’s vivid and compelling account of one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in Scottish history.
This was an easy to read and absorbing book. The use of original sources gives it added poignancy, as we read of Slater’s ordeal. The reader gains insight not just in to the principle actors in the case but also attitudes and prejudices prevalent at the time.
The Marion Gilchrist murder, and the subsequent terrible miscarriage of justice helped bring about changes to appeal procedures in the UK. It’s just a pity the police at the time were too busy fitting up a man they disliked because he was foreign, lower class and Jewish to find her murderer.
Side note: I’ve highlighted some passages in the book regarding the creation of Sherlock Holmes for reference in my dissertation essay.