I have been going through a mini crime phase in my reading across different genres recently, namely non-fiction, crime fiction and historical fiction. Here are three books I have enjoyed over the last few weeks:
Court Number One by Thomas Grant is an anthology of 11 significant trials held at the Central Criminal Court in London, more commonly known as the Old Bailey, during the 20th century. The majority of these deal with murders, but also include espionage and treason, and as the subtitle of the book promises, Grant shows how the trials defined modern Britain, particularly where attitudes towards social change are concerned. The earlier chapters tend to involve cases which have largely been forgotten such as the Camden Town murder trial in 1907 shortly after the court opened, while those in the second half of the century mostly remain notorious such as those involving John Christie, Ruth Ellis and Jeremy Thorpe. While some chapters are a tad overlong due to the considerable amount of detail, each case is outlined in a gripping narrative, capturing the essence of courtroom drama. Grant, a practising barrister, shines a light on the tactics involved and how and why the trials had the outcomes that they did. ‘Court Number One’ is ideal for a lay reader who wants to understand more about the history of the English criminal justice system, and would be a good companion to The Secret Barrister. Continue reading
I enjoyed Patrick McGuinness’s debut The Last Hundred Days which is an evocative portrait of the end of Ceausescu’s rule in Romania and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2011. His second novel ‘Throw Me to the Wolves’ is inspired by the real events of the Joanna Yeates case in which her landlord, Christopher Jefferies, was arrested on suspicion of her murder in Bristol in December 2010. The retired English teacher was released without charge and the real killer was caught, but extensive press coverage at the time of his arrest had portrayed him as an eccentric loner with false suggestions by ex-pupils that he had behaved inappropriately. In ‘Throw Me to the Wolves’, the setting has been changed to Kent and the character based on Jefferies is Michael Wolphram, accused of the murder of his neighbour Zalie Dyer. Continue reading
It’s been almost three years since Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith was published and it has been a very long wait to find out what happens following the cliffhanger ending of ex-military policeman and private detective Cormoran Strike’s late arrival at the wedding of his agency partner Robin Ellacott and her insufferable fiancé Matthew Cunliffe. The prologue of the fourth book in the series published last month, ‘Lethal White’, picks up exactly where ‘Career of Evil’ left off and the story then jumps forward a year later to the summer of 2012 when London is hosting the Olympic Games. A mentally distressed young man named Billy Knight arrives at Strike’s office and then flees again shortly after claiming to have witnessed the murder of a child many years ago. Strike is subsequently approached by Jasper Chiswell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport who has been receiving blackmail threats from Geraint Winn, husband of the Minister for Sport Della Winn, and Billy’s older brother, Jimmy Knight. Continue reading
The opening chapter of ‘Snap’ by Belinda Bauer presents a chilling premise based on the unsolved murder of Marie Wilks. On a hot day in the summer of 1998, eleven-year-old Jack Bright is left in a broken-down car by the side of a motorway with his two younger sisters, Joy and Merry, while their pregnant mother, Eileen, goes in search of a telephone for help. However, she never returns and her body is eventually found stabbed to death.
Three years later and abandoned by their father who was unable to cope, Jack turns to burgling houses to provide for his sisters and escape being noticed by social services. On the other side of town, a young pregnant woman, Catherine While, discovers a knife next to her bed with a note that reads “I could have killed you” but she decides not to tell her husband about the break-in or report it to the police. Elsewhere, DS Reynolds who does everything by the book and DCI Marvel who takes a slightly more unorthodox approach towards detective work are investigating multiple burglaries and the identity of Eileen’s killer who still hasn’t been caught and are in a race against time to solve both mysteries. Continue reading
Medical memoirs such as This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay have vividly illustrated the highs and lows of working in the National Health Service and the importance of funding it properly. The Secret Barrister, an anonymous junior barrister practicing in London, now lifts the lid on the realities of the English and Welsh criminal justice system in ‘Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken’. Continue reading
‘The Accident on the A35’ by Graeme Macrae Burnet sees the return of Inspector Georges Gorski who featured in The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau. His latest case in the sleepy French town of Saint-Louis in Alsace involves the circumstances surrounding a car accident which fatally injures prominent local solicitor Bertrand Barthelme. Although there is no evidence to suggest a crime has been committed, it is soon discovered that Barthelme had repeatedly lied about his whereabouts to his wife Lucette and teenage son Raymond so Gorski agrees to Lucette’s request to look into the circumstances further. Meanwhile Raymond discovers the address of a house in the rue Saint-Fiacre in Mulhouse on a piece of paper in his father’s desk and sets out to conduct his own investigation.
‘Alias Grace’ by Margaret Atwood is based on the true story of Grace Marks, a servant convicted of the notorious double murder of her employer Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper and mistress Nancy Montgomery alongside stable hand James McDermott in Toronto in 1843 when she was just sixteen years old. After they were caught attempting to escape from Canada to the United States, McDermott was hanged for the crime while Grace was sentenced to life imprisonment at Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario after her death sentence was commuted at the last minute. Despite confessing to the crime at the time, Grace still claims to have no memory of the murders fifteen years later. Her sanity is being investigated by American psychiatrist Dr. Simon Jordan at the invitation of a liberal minister who believes she is innocent.