On the night of December 21, 1908, Marion Gilchrist is murdered in her apartment in Glasgow. Though she was known to be wealthy, the only item missing from her home is a diamond brooch. Eyewitnesses report seeing a man lurking in the street outside for several nights prior to the murder, and a man leaving the apartment just before Gilchrist’s body is discovered, but none of the reports agree with each other. When police hear that Oscar Slater is trying to sell off a pawn ticket for a diamond brooch, they think they have their suspect. Slater is a suspicious character with a record of minor crimes and several known aliases, so they waste no time apprehending him - despite the fact that his brooch was pawned weeks before the murder. Who can Slater turn to for help pleading his case? None other than the famous detective writer, Arthur Conan Doyle.
Conan Doyle for the Defense is more than a page-turning volume of true crime. It effectively illustrates the state of police work up to the turn of the 20th century - guessing at a suspect first and then making the evidence fit - which Conan Doyle criticized with his creation of Sherlock Holmes, who always examined the clues first and would allow only the explanation that matched the evidence. There’s also a fascinating analysis of Victorian British society, slowly struggling to displace old traditions in favor of modernity, and uneasy with changing demographics. (Slater was a Jewish German immigrant, and prejudices against him weighed heavily in his treatment.) The depiction of injustice in the Victorian criminal justice system is shocking, and this account of Conan Doyle - who consulted on multiple criminal trials in his lifetime - creates new insight into the life of the famous writer. - Michelle (Sunset)