Conan Doyle for the Defense
In this thrilling true-crime procedural, the creator of Sherlock Holmes uses his unparalleled detective skills to exonerate a German Jew wrongly convicted of murder.One of USA Today's "Five new books you won't want to miss!" "Gripping . . . The book works on two levels, much like a good Holmes case."--TimeFor all the scores of biographies of Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the most famous detective in the world, there is no recent book that tells this remarkable story--in which Conan Doyle becomes a real-life detective on an actual murder case. In Conan Doyle for the Defense, Margalit Fox takes us step by step inside Conan Doyle's investigative process and illuminates a murder mystery that is also a morality play for our time--a story of ethnic, religious, and anti-immigrant bias.In 1908, a wealthy woman was brutally murdered in her Glasgow home. The police found a convenient suspect in Oscar Slater--an immigrant Jewish cardsharp--who, despite his obvious innocence, was tried, convicted, and consigned to life at hard labor in a brutal Scottish prison. Conan Doyle, already world famous as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, was outraged by this injustice and became obsessed with the case. Using the methods of his most famous character, he scoured trial transcripts, newspaper accounts, and eyewitness statements, meticulously noting myriad holes, inconsistencies, and outright fabrications by police and prosecutors. Finally, in 1927, his work won Slater's freedom.Margalit Fox, a celebrated longtime writer for The New York Times, has "a nose for interesting facts, the ability to construct a taut narrative arc, and a Dickens-level gift for concisely conveying personality" (Kathryn Schulz, New York). In Conan Doyle for the Defense, she immerses readers in the science of Edwardian crime detection and illuminates a watershed moment in the history of forensics, when reflexive prejudice began to be replaced by reason and the scientific method.Praise for Conan Doyle for the Defense"Splendid . . . The ingredients are too good to pass up: a famous detective novelist actually playing detective, a man serving time for a murder he did not commit, and a criminal justice system slowly, and reluctantly, reckoning with the advent of forensic science." -- Sarah Weinman, The New Republic "Entertaining."--Newsday

Conan Doyle for the Defense Details

TitleConan Doyle for the Defense
Author
ReleaseJun 26th, 2018
PublisherRandom House
ISBN-139780399589454
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Crime, True Crime, History, Mystery, Biography

Conan Doyle for the Defense Review

  • Sean Gibson
    January 1, 1970
    Margalit Fox is a witch.I don’t mean to suggest that she dances naked in the moonlight with the coven, though I’ve never met the woman, so I can’t opine definitively vis-à-vis her nocturnal pursuits. Rather, I can conceive of nothing short of sorcery to explain how someone could so deftly craft a narrative that appeals so strongly to my oddly compulsive interests as they pertain to Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, Victorian history, culture, and society, unsolved mysteries, facial hair, and Margalit Fox is a witch.I don’t mean to suggest that she dances naked in the moonlight with the coven, though I’ve never met the woman, so I can’t opine definitively vis-à-vis her nocturnal pursuits. Rather, I can conceive of nothing short of sorcery to explain how someone could so deftly craft a narrative that appeals so strongly to my oddly compulsive interests as they pertain to Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, Victorian history, culture, and society, unsolved mysteries, facial hair, and footnotes. It’s not simply the intermingling of these disparate elements that makes me suspect Ms. Fox of magic most foul, mind you, but also her admirable execution, which can only be explained by arcane forces (or perhaps just talent and competence beyond the comprehension of mere mortals).Conan Doyle for the Defense: The True Story of a Sensational British Murder, a Quest for Justice, and the World's Most Famous Detective Writer recounts the sensational 1908 murder of a wealthy, elderly woman and the bungled police investigation that followed, one that quickly homed in on a German Jew, Oscar Slater, who was then living in Glasgow (but soon to depart for greener, or at least techier, pastures in San Francisco), as the primary suspect. The strongest piece of “evidence” against Mr. Slater, a man about town who made his living in gambling halls and possibly through immoral housekeeping* (a charge he denied, incidentally), was a pawn ticket for a brooch that, in the general, matched the description of one taken from the scene of the crime. There was, however, one minor (read: gaping) flaw in this case-cinching piece of proof: the pawn ticket predated the murder/robbery by a few weeks, and, absent a time-tuner, the pawning of a piece of property tends to be rather difficult prior to acquiring it. Undeterred by the fact that logic, common sense, and even a semi-reasonable attempt to administer justice might undermine their case, the police pressed on, coaching numerous witnesses into identifying Slater as the guilty party. A weak defense lawyer, a prosecutor who treated facts as though he were auditioning to be President of the United States in the late 2010s, and a biased Victorian court combined to doom Slater to the gallows; only a last-minute reprieve (a result of the clearly shoddy case against him) provided a stay of execution, though it was decided that he would spend the next several decades doing hard time in Peterhead Prison.Enter Conan Doyle, the renowned creator of Sherlock Holmes and Victorian icon of manly commitment to honor, fair play, and absurd mustaches. Having been called upon to apply Holmesian principles of deduction (well, induction, but let’s not quibble over terminology) to solve real-life cases before (most notably in in helping Indian solicitor George Edalji escape from the clink after being falsely accused of maiming animals and correctly but irrelevantly being accused of not being white), Conan Doyle threw himself into the Slater case, having noted from the first that the chain of evidence couldn’t possibly support the police theory that Slater committed the murder.I’ll leave it for the far more talented Ms. Fox to present the facts as they unfold from there, but, suffice it to say, the Slater case has everything you could possibly want in a true crime story: shady suspects, bumbling police, red herrings, gross miscarriages of justice, conspiracies and cover-ups, celebrity advocates, and mustaches the size of ferrets. Fox does a masterful job of weaving all of those elements together, always quoting primary sources at just the right moment and referencing examples from the Holmes canon that mirror Conan Doyle’s approach to the Slater case. It’s a gripping narrative from start to finish that includes just enough social commentary and historical detail to help the reader realize just how emblematic of turn-of-the-century Britain the Slater trial was.It’s in providing that social commentary that Fox does perhaps her best work. The industrious and influential Conan Doyle, who was single-minded in his pursuit of honor and justice throughout his life, in many ways embodied the best ideals of the Victorian Age, though even he was not immune to the more unflattering aspects of the Victorian mindset, which included a patronizing and superior approach to anyone who wasn’t white and Christian. Fear of “the Other” is a frequent theme in Victorian (especially late Victorian) literature, and Slater, as both a Jew and member of the lower class, was, in many ways, the embodiment of that fear, despite his dapper appearance and facility with the English language. Fox doesn’t spare her cast of characters, not even Conan Doyle, from the painful truth of their own words, shining a light on the worst of their commentary, nor does she act as their apologist. But, she masterfully contextualizes that commentary in a way that helps the reader to understand what a progressive mindset looked like in 1920s Britain and how, even over the course of Slater’s decades languishing in prison, societal attitudes changed.It is a mark of progress if we look back over 100 years of history and cringe; I hope it is always thus. It speaks to desirable social evolution that many of the factors that contributed to Slater’s conviction (beyond the lack of systematic evidence gathering and logical approach to solving crimes, which a fictional detective did much to remedy) seem anathema to us now. Given enough historical distance, even the most noble individual may appear distressingly prejudiced (I mean, even Ross Geller seems like a raging homophobe in retrospect, and he once kissed Joey to help him prepare for an audition). Fox helps us realize this, even as she suggests that we’ve not made as much progress as we might like to think. I hope that in 2118, we’re living in a world where the rights of LGBTQIA people are not even remotely in question and racial and religious prejudice has receded to such a degree that they do not meaningfully impact one’s ability to live one’s life as one wishes, but the historical record suggests that we will still be fighting that good fight 100 years hence, I’m afraid. The moral of the story there is simply this: don’t make assumptions and don’t give up. Keep pushing us toward a better future.That unsavory aspect of humanity notwithstanding, CONAN DOYLE FOR THE DEFENSE is as absorbing a read as you’ll find in 2018. Highly recommended for Holmes fans, Victorian aficionados, true crime devotees, and mustache combs. *”Immoral housekeeping” being one of those delightfully understated Victorian euphemisms for “pimping out hos.”
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  • Paromjit
    January 1, 1970
    Arthur Conan Doyle takes on the mantle of his own fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, in the true crime case of an innocent man, German Jew Oscar Slater, convicted of the murder of the rich, elderly, unlikeable 82 year old woman, Marion Gilchrist in 1908, in Glasgow. Margalit Fox gives us a dense study of the true crime with her impeccable research, concentrating on giving us a social and political commentary of the era that allowed such a damning miscarriage of justice to take place. It is a Arthur Conan Doyle takes on the mantle of his own fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, in the true crime case of an innocent man, German Jew Oscar Slater, convicted of the murder of the rich, elderly, unlikeable 82 year old woman, Marion Gilchrist in 1908, in Glasgow. Margalit Fox gives us a dense study of the true crime with her impeccable research, concentrating on giving us a social and political commentary of the era that allowed such a damning miscarriage of justice to take place. It is a time of baseless, offensive theories claiming that criminals were born, not made. As such, they make the unfounded assumption that foreigners, the poor, the working class, all outsiders, and Jews are all criminals, ironic given that evidence suggests the real killer is none of these. Conan Doyle challenges such bigotry with the more rational and forensic approach to ensure that almost 20 years later, Oscar Slater is freed from Peterhead prison.The police barely carried out an investigation, they had found a likely culprit in Oscar Slate, he indulged in gambling, lived with a prostitute, and travelled to New York within days of the murder. The fact that he had an alibi, bore no likeness to the man seen outside of Gilchrist's home, cuts no ice with the police. The policeman who queried his guilt loses his job as the police engage in outright deception and lies that ensures Slater is found guilty. Slater asks Conan Doyle for help in a message smuggled by William Gordon, a convict released in 1925. Despite not liking Slater, Conan Doyle continued to campaign until he was released. Slater displays little in the way of gratitude as he entered into a public spat with Conan Doyle on leaving prison. The police never pursued the real killer, despite evidence suggesting it was someone close to Gilchrist.Fox does not dwell in length on Conan Doyle, giving us his personal history and his campaign to free Slater. She is much more interested in the anti-semitism, racism and demonisation of the poor in the period, encapsulated in the credence given to quack theories that justified this appalling state of affairs. I found this a compelling and interesting read of this true crime and the depiction of a corrupt police force is forcefully related. It is to his credit that Conan Doyle had an interest in justice and prepared to fight the establishment when it came to Slater. Many thanks to Serpent's Tail for an ARC.
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  • Susan
    January 1, 1970
    Arthur Conan Doyle is, of course, best known for writing Sherlock Holmes, but he was also a man of many interests. By the time of the events of this book, Conan Doyle was well known as a crusader for justice; although he was also somewhat derided for his passion for Spiritualism. However, if you are reading this book solely for your interest in Conan Doyle, then please be aware that this is largely about the historical true crime case, which occurred in Glasgow, 1908, and the events which follow Arthur Conan Doyle is, of course, best known for writing Sherlock Holmes, but he was also a man of many interests. By the time of the events of this book, Conan Doyle was well known as a crusader for justice; although he was also somewhat derided for his passion for Spiritualism. However, if you are reading this book solely for your interest in Conan Doyle, then please be aware that this is largely about the historical true crime case, which occurred in Glasgow, 1908, and the events which followed it. The book does include Conan Doyle’s part in these events, but there is much more besides.The case of Oscar Slater, a German Jew, who was cosmopolitan and well travelled, was certainly to regret his visit to Glasgow. In what was later termed, “the Scottish Dreyfus Affair,” Slater was arrested for the murder of an elderly widow, Marion Gilchrist, just before Christmas in 1908. This miscarriage of justice is more interesting, in part, because Slater himself is not a particularly sympathetic character. He was, in fact, a rogue, or ‘blackguard,’ in Conan Doyle’s opinion. However, the evidence against him was circumstantial and when he was sentenced to life ,with hard labour ,at the notorious Peterhead Prison, he began to lose hope. Conan Doyle was interested in the case from the beginning, but a smuggled message from Slater in 1925, led to him becoming involved in trying to gain Slater’s release. It is more commendable that Conan Doyle worked on Slater’s behalf, considering his original low opinion of the man – it was justice that mattered and he threw himself into the investigation of the crime. This is a fascinating account of the crime, the background, original investigation and Conan Doyle’s own investigation. It is somewhat shocking to realise how long Oscar Slater spent in prison before his release; which may never have happened without Conan Doyle’s help. At times, it seems the author wanted to put in every piece of research. However, this is still a fascinating account of a historical true crime and the outcome for the man convicted of it. I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.
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  • Leah
    January 1, 1970
    “...however improbable, must be the truth...”In 1908, an elderly lady, Miss Gilchrist, was bludgeoned to death in her Glasgow home and a brooch was stolen. Shortly afterwards, Oscar Slater pawned a brooch and boarded a ship bound for America. These two facts were enough for the police to decide that he was the guilty man and, sure enough, they arrested and charged him, and he was convicted and condemned to death – a sentence that was swiftly commuted to life imprisonment in response to a growing “...however improbable, must be the truth...”In 1908, an elderly lady, Miss Gilchrist, was bludgeoned to death in her Glasgow home and a brooch was stolen. Shortly afterwards, Oscar Slater pawned a brooch and boarded a ship bound for America. These two facts were enough for the police to decide that he was the guilty man and, sure enough, they arrested and charged him, and he was convicted and condemned to death – a sentence that was swiftly commuted to life imprisonment in response to a growing feeling of doubt over the verdict among some sectors of the public. This book sets out to tell the story of the case and specifically of Arthur Conan Doyle’s involvement in the campaign to have the verdict overturned. Quite often with this kind of book I avoid mentioning the eventual outcome as, even though it’s a true crime, it can be fun for people who don’t know the story to read it as a kind of suspense thriller. However, Fox reveals all in her introductory chapter, so I shall say now that Slater’s conviction was finally quashed, but not until he had spent nearly twenty years in Peterhead, Scotland’s most notorious prison. As the book shows, there is no doubt about his innocence, and Fox makes no attempt to pin the crime on the real culprit – that’s not her purpose. Instead, she uses the case to examine the social factors that led to the false conviction, together with the state of the science of detection and ACD’s influence on it.Fox starts with a description of the murder and the vague and contradictory eyewitness accounts of a man, or perhaps two men, seen near the scene. The police were immediately under pressure to find the murderer, so they were delighted when they were told that Slater had pawned a brooch similar to the one which had been stolen. Slater was perfect as a villain – German, Jewish, a man who made his living from gambling and who lived with a woman suspected of loose morals, possibly a prostitute. So even although they quickly discovered that the brooch he had pawned was not the one stolen from Miss Gilchrist, they decided not to let this little fact get in the way. Instead, they carefully selected all evidence that made Slater look guilty and suppressed anything that proved his innocence – and there was plenty, including an eyewitness account from a respectable neighbour who saw him elsewhere at the time. Fox discusses the growing anti-Semitism of the period in Scotland, and the more general fear of foreigners. While Scotland hadn’t been quite as anti-Semitic as England in the past, massively increased immigration was leading to an upsurge, especially since many of the Jews arriving were poor, thus existing on the margins. They became associated in the public mind with crime. Also, new modes of transport and the requirements of an industrialised economy meant that people were more mobile than in the past, so that people didn’t necessarily know who their neighbours were, leading to a kind of fear of the stranger. So Slater was an ideal scapegoat, given that the police had no idea of the identity of the real murderer.Conan Doyle became interested in the case early on. Fox runs through those parts of his biography that are relevant to him becoming a kind of consultant on cases of wrongful conviction, such as his early exposure to the work of Dr Joseph Bell, the man who inspired Sherlock Holmes. Much of this was already known to me, but Fox keeps it tightly focused so that it never feels like padding. She coins the phrase “diagnostic imagination” to describe ACD’s methods, suggesting that his early medical training of conjecturing from symptom back to diagnosis was the basis for his technique of what we would now think of as forensic detection – using physical clues to work backwards to the crime. Fox discusses very interestingly how at this period the pseudoscience of “criminal anthropology” was still influencing detection in Scotland and elsewhere: a belief that one could determine criminal tendencies by certain physical hallmarks – a system “that sought to cloak racial, ethnic and class stereotypes in turn-of-the-20th-century scientific garb”. This was giving way to the more forensic methods promoted by ACD, but not quickly enough to save Slater.Fox continues the stories of both men turn and turn about, along the way providing a pretty damning indictment of the Scottish police and criminal justice system of the time. She personalises it by allowing us to read some of Slater’s correspondence with his loving parents and family, some of which is quite moving as they gradually age and his expectations of ever seeing them again grow fainter. During the war, no communication was allowed with Germany, so for years he went with no news of family at all. He wasn’t a particularly pleasant man, Slater, but the punishment he underwent for a crime of which he was innocent was cruel indeed.I found this a fascinating read, especially since rather to my surprise I learned quite a lot that I didn’t know about my own city and country. All the stuff about Glasgow – the class divisions, the way people lived, the prejudices and culture – feels authentic and still recognisable to this Glaswegian, and the wider picture of policing and justice in Scotland feels very well researched. The story of Conan Doyle’s involvement is also told well with lots of interesting digressions into the art and science of detection, and plenty of referencing to the world of Sherlock Holmes. One that I think true crime fans will thoroughly enjoy – highly recommended!NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Profile Books.www.fictionfanblog.wordpress.com
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  • Giulia
    January 1, 1970
    This book was chock full of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle information. The Sherlock Holme's author was a true "gentleman". He had his principles and he stuck to them. I loved this book --if you are a Sherlock Holmes and true crime fan this book was written for you. It details the horrifying injustice done to Oscar Slater when he is wrongly found guilty of murdering a wealthy older woman he never even had heard of. ACD (along with a few others)helps to get Oscar out of his torturous prison cell in Peter This book was chock full of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle information. The Sherlock Holme's author was a true "gentleman". He had his principles and he stuck to them. I loved this book --if you are a Sherlock Holmes and true crime fan this book was written for you. It details the horrifying injustice done to Oscar Slater when he is wrongly found guilty of murdering a wealthy older woman he never even had heard of. ACD (along with a few others)helps to get Oscar out of his torturous prison cell in Petershead... but this book is much more then just that. The anecdotes about ACD were very interesting. I recommend this book to history buffs most especially. Thank you to Net Galley and the publisher for a chance to read and review.
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  • Nigeyb
    January 1, 1970
    'Conan Doyle for the Defence' by Margalit Fox relates the tale of a clear miscarriage of justice. Oscar Slater, a Jewish immigrant, was convicted of the murder of Marion Gilchrist, a wealthy 82 year old spinster, who was found bludgeoned to death in her Glasgow home on 21 December 1908.An objective review of the evidence clearly demonstrates Oscar Slater’s innocence however, as Margalit Fox explains, ineffectual police techniques, police corruption, racial prejudice, and class stereotypes, all c 'Conan Doyle for the Defence' by Margalit Fox relates the tale of a clear miscarriage of justice. Oscar Slater, a Jewish immigrant, was convicted of the murder of Marion Gilchrist, a wealthy 82 year old spinster, who was found bludgeoned to death in her Glasgow home on 21 December 1908.An objective review of the evidence clearly demonstrates Oscar Slater’s innocence however, as Margalit Fox explains, ineffectual police techniques, police corruption, racial prejudice, and class stereotypes, all conspired to convict Oscar Slater in May 1909. Slater’s initial death penalty was commuted to penal servitude for life which he served at the harsh Peterhead prison.Arthur Conan Doyle was one of many who criticised the guilty verdict and the weak evidence against Slater. In August 1912, Conan Doyle published a booklet entitled The Case of Oscar Slater, where he suggested that some document, such as a will, and not the jewels, was the real object of the murderer’s quest.A Glasgow policeman named John Thomson Trench was also convinced that Slater had been wrongly accused. Trench was dismissed from the Glasgow police for his efforts to clear Slater, and he died a few years later. In 1927, supported by Conan Doyle, William Park published a book called The Truth About Oscar Slater. Slater's conviction was quashed in July 1928. Oscar Slater was finally released from Peterhead in 1927 after serving 19 years for a murder he almost certainly did not commit. He died in 1948.'Conan Doyle for the Defence' contains a lot of background information about the case, attitudes to foreigners and criminality, police procedure, the penal system and much more. Occasionally this felt like too information, as though Margalit Fox wanted to include all her research, and from time to time I lost interest in what I was reading. With a good edit, this book could be a page turner, as it is it’s a generally interesting and exhaustive look at a case that allows exploration of an era when such an obvious miscarriage of justice could occur by virtue of the prevalent early 20th century attitudes. It also contains extensive biographical information on both Oscar Slater and Arthur Conan Doyle.3/5
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  • Yibbie
    January 1, 1970
    There is more in this book about the philosophies and techniques of the Victorian era’s criminal justice system than there is about Doyle’s efforts to clear Slater. With the clarity of hindsight, she criticizes or applauds each move made by all the players. It was interesting, but not quite what I was expecting. We do get some about Doyle. Throughout were interspersed snippets about his public and private life. There were also interesting parallels drawn between the techniques Doyle used to clea There is more in this book about the philosophies and techniques of the Victorian era’s criminal justice system than there is about Doyle’s efforts to clear Slater. With the clarity of hindsight, she criticizes or applauds each move made by all the players. It was interesting, but not quite what I was expecting. We do get some about Doyle. Throughout were interspersed snippets about his public and private life. There were also interesting parallels drawn between the techniques Doyle used to clear Slater and the skills he showcased in the Homes stories. But it was more about the times than about his efforts. Fox traces the effects of the racial prejudices of the times and the effects of the faulty theories of criminology. She also takes issue with the morals of the times. Maybe it’s because she was focused on this terrible travesty, or it’s her writing style, but she seemed to broad-brush the entire era as being grossly unjust, despite the lengths numerous people went to in order to correct the situation. If you are interested in the evolution of the justice system in Scotland, this will be an interesting look at an incredibly influential case. Unfortunately, there were a couple of things that distracted me from the story. The first was the had-they-but-known style. It just didn’t work for me when we already knew what’s going to happen. We already knew things people did or believed had disastrous consequences for Slater and those helping him. I found it slightly annoying to have it pointed out over and over. More importantly, I had trouble following the storyline. Perhaps it was just the number of people and sources she was quoting from or the style, but there were large sections in which I had a very hard time following the chronology. She would follow one aspect for a while and then jump and tell us how it affects the ending and then jumps abruptly back to an earlier time. I received this as a free ARC through NetGalley from Dover Publications. No favorable review was required. These are my honest opinions.
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  • gem
    January 1, 1970
    This really needs to be made into a tv show!If you're like me and love reading fictional murder mysteries or true crime books, this is a must read as it offers both a fascinating plot and lots of little insights that I haven't read before.I've read a lot of Conan-Doyle, Agatha Christie and Robin Stevens books and I now have a new author to read.Thanks to netgalley for the chance to read this.
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  • Janice
    January 1, 1970
    What a fascinating book. It delivers a true crime “mystery “ solved by the great Conan Doyle (creator of the famous Sherlock Holmes) presented within the social context of Victorian England. I enjoyed this very much - it was engrossing and certainly well-written.My thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an arc in exchange for my honest review.
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  • Tiffany
    January 1, 1970
    An interesting read. While I originally expected more information about Conan Doyle, I did not find myself very disappointed by the lack of said expectations being met. A lot of information about the case, the time period, Doyle, and society was encompassed in the pages of this work. I would recommend this to anyone interested in true crime, sociology, turn of the century studies, and readers of Conon Doyle
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  • Kathy Cunningham
    January 1, 1970
    Margalit Fox’s CONAN DOYLE FOR THE DEFENSE is a fascinating look at the social and political world of late Victorian England. The book focuses on Arthur Conan Doyle’s efforts to free a man wrongfully imprisoned for a murder he did not commit. But what’s most interesting is the justice system in the early 1900’s, and how fraught it was with prejudice, especially anti-Semitism, class warfare, and distrust of foreigners. Sound familiar? Yes, it does. In 1908, a wealthy, elderly woman was brutally m Margalit Fox’s CONAN DOYLE FOR THE DEFENSE is a fascinating look at the social and political world of late Victorian England. The book focuses on Arthur Conan Doyle’s efforts to free a man wrongfully imprisoned for a murder he did not commit. But what’s most interesting is the justice system in the early 1900’s, and how fraught it was with prejudice, especially anti-Semitism, class warfare, and distrust of foreigners. Sound familiar? Yes, it does. In 1908, a wealthy, elderly woman was brutally murdered in her apartment. Several witnesses claim to have seen a man leaving the scene of the crime, and a pawned piece of jewelry led police to suspect Oscar Slater, a German Jew with a rather unseemly past (Conan Doyle himself called Slater “a disreputable rolling-stone of a man”). Police quickly latched onto Slater as the perpetrator, and he was ultimately convicted and sentenced to hang (a sentence that was later commuted to life in prison). Conan Doyle wrote several articles, as well as a book, about the miscarriage of justice resulting in Slater’s conviction, characterizing it as “a disgraceful frame-up, in which stupidity and dishonesty played an equal part.” And eventually, Conan Doyle’s involvement resulted in Slater’s exoneration and freedom. But it took almost 20 years.Fox describes late Victorian England as awash in social paranoia, including an intense distrust of foreigners, Jews, and the impoverished. In this environment, Slater seemed a likely target. He was German, a Jew, and a reprobate (he was a gambler, and he may well have been a pimp). He wasn’t, however, a murderer. He had no motive to kill the old woman, the pawned brooch wasn’t the one stolen from her apartment, and he did not try to evade capture (as the prosecution claimed). But he was an easy mark, and when evidence surfaced that suggested someone else may have killed the woman – someone local, wealthy, and well-respected – there was no interest in pursuing it. It took almost two decades, and pressure from Conan Doyle, to get Slater’s conviction overturned.There’s a lot in this book about Conan Doyle himself, and about Sherlock Holmes, his iconic detective. Conan Doyle examined the Slater case in much the same way Holmes did in his many stories. Both were specialists in abduction, a method of “thinking backwards” to figure out the truth behind evidence. This part of the book – where Conan Doyle uses abduction to demonstrate the absurdity of the charges against Slater – is a gripping read. And it ultimately saved Slater from his life sentence behind bars.I enjoyed reading this book very much. It’s well-written, meticulously researched, and it shines a light on human nature and prejudice (both in the early 1900’s and today). I highly recommend it – not just to fans of Holmes and Conan Doyle, but to students of history and justice. It’s an engaging read.[Please note: I was provided an Advance Reading Copy of this book free of charge; the opinions expressed here are my own.]
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  • David
    January 1, 1970
    Fill in the blank:Sherlock Holmes uses extraordinary powers of _______________ to solve crimes.Answer: “deduction”, amirite?Apparently not. He uses “abduction” (Kindle location 1215).Abduction? Really? He kidnaps people? That can’t be right. I understand that Sherlock, if he decided to kidnap someone, would undoubtedly have extraordinary powers, what with being so brainy and all, but abduction, as the average hairpin understands the word, is definitely not in the canon.As it turns out, we have a Fill in the blank:Sherlock Holmes uses extraordinary powers of _______________ to solve crimes.Answer: “deduction”, amirite?Apparently not. He uses “abduction” (Kindle location 1215).Abduction? Really? He kidnaps people? That can’t be right. I understand that Sherlock, if he decided to kidnap someone, would undoubtedly have extraordinary powers, what with being so brainy and all, but abduction, as the average hairpin understands the word, is definitely not in the canon.As it turns out, we have all been using the word “deduction” incorrectly all these years. Who knew? Not only that, but law-enforcement personnel have been incorrectly using the process of itself in pursuit of easy arrests and swiftly closed case, reasoning deductively as follows: -- All murders are committed by undesirables.-- [name] is an undesirable.-- Therefore, [name] committed [unsolved crime].This good book has a long but interesting digression into the names and characteristics of various types of syllogisms like above, and hangs it all on an interesting true-crime story of miscarried justice, so is generally my idea of a good time. I enjoyed reading it.Another long but interesting digression is the bigoted and baseless theories which passed for psychological profiling. I want to say that these theories are laughable, but they caused innocent people to go to jail and guilty people to go free, so I guess there isn’t really a lot to be jolly about. Still, a look at how the prejudices of another time deformed society and led to gross miscarriages of justice could, theoretically, aid us in looking with fresh eyes at the same problem in our era.Arthur Conan Doyle is actually only a supporting character in this book, and disappears for a long time as our somewhat-less-sympathetic real-life anti-hero does long hard time for a crime he didn’t commit. When he finally appears, he keeps the unjustly-imprisoned man at arm’s length, seemingly because he correctly read character, to wit, he (the wrongly accused) was a difficult cuss and did his utmost to make his already sad situation even worse.In short, a fun read by a good author, who has also written an interesting book about a completely different topic which I also paid for no money, read, and enjoyed, even though I wrote an ungrateful sorehead review at the time.I received a free unfinished galley of the ebook for review. Thank you to Netgalley and Random House for their generosity.
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  • Schuyler Wallace
    January 1, 1970
    Margalit Fox is mainly noted as a linguist, serving on many usage panels and boards for language usage handbooks. She also had a long career as writer of obituaries for the New York Times. But wait a minute. She didn’t just hack out death notices. Her tributes to the lives of celebrities and notables were classics. Her work was submitted twice for Pulitzer Prizes. “Conan Doyle for the Defense” is her third book and has prompted her retirement from the newspaper to concentrate on her book writing Margalit Fox is mainly noted as a linguist, serving on many usage panels and boards for language usage handbooks. She also had a long career as writer of obituaries for the New York Times. But wait a minute. She didn’t just hack out death notices. Her tributes to the lives of celebrities and notables were classics. Her work was submitted twice for Pulitzer Prizes. “Conan Doyle for the Defense” is her third book and has prompted her retirement from the newspaper to concentrate on her book writing. I say, “Good decision.” This work is enlightening and engrossing than death notices. There are great historical references and informational tidbits about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, the world’s most famous detective. But, in this case, it’s the author, Margalit Fox, who does the sleuthing. Fox’s in-depth research, her grammatically correct and precise writing, and her meticulous gumshoe efforts place Conan Doyle as the investigator instead of his famous detective.In the early 1900s, Oscar Slater, a German Jew expatriate, was convicted of the murder of Marion Gilchrist, who was found bludgeoned to death in her home. The evidence was shoddy, the Irish police investigation was comical, there were outright lies from prosecutors and police, and eventually class bias and anti-Semitism was proved to have influenced the guilty verdict. Conan Doyle tore down the case, step by step, and the decision was reversed, some 20 years after Slater’s conviction. This was the second of two such cases that Conan Doyle personally pursued, using his medical background and the rational inquiry approach he assigned to his fictional detective to get the convictions overturned. The author’s exhaustive research and carefully considered analysis shines a new light Conan Doyle’s techniques, so productive in the Sherlock Holmes series. It seemed to me, as I read Fox’s book, that her writing contains traces of Victorian and Edwardian literary styles. Literature during that period was noted for its intensity, imagery, and vision ... think Shaw, Hardy, Forster, H.G. Wells, and, of course, Conan Doyle. I felt a part of that time period as I read her book, making the account more rewarding and realistic. I enjoyed this great read.
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  • Anne Morgan
    January 1, 1970
    Conan Doyle for the Defense tell the true story of the violent murder of Marion Gilchrist and the wrongful imprisonment of Oscar Slater for the crime, despite his clear innocence. Conan Doyle created one of the most famous detectives of all literature with his Sherlock Holmes. Yet less well known is that, thanks to Holmes' fame, Conan Doyle himself also occasionally stepped in on cases where he thought he could be of use. Oscar Slater's is one of those cases. The brutal murder of Marion Gilchris Conan Doyle for the Defense tell the true story of the violent murder of Marion Gilchrist and the wrongful imprisonment of Oscar Slater for the crime, despite his clear innocence. Conan Doyle created one of the most famous detectives of all literature with his Sherlock Holmes. Yet less well known is that, thanks to Holmes' fame, Conan Doyle himself also occasionally stepped in on cases where he thought he could be of use. Oscar Slater's is one of those cases. The brutal murder of Marion Gilchrist in 1908 Glasgow was certainly worthy of Holmes himself- a rich, reclusive, elderly lady who lived in a nearly impregnable house was found beaten to dead in that home in the 10 minute window of time when her maid stepped out to buy a paper. Slater never heard of Miss Gilchrist, yet because he had pawned a brooch with a superficially similar description to one stolen at the crime scene he was named the killer. It didn't matter that the brooch had been pawned months before the murder (and its theft), that there was no way Slater knew of the brooch or the woman, that no eyewitness could agree on the man they saw in the neighborhood (or even if there was one or two men). Nor did it matter that almost as soon as they named Slater as a suspect the police knew he had to be innocent. Slater was arrested, tried, convicted, and jailed for nearly 20 years for a crime he couldn't have committed. Margalit Fox tells the story from two angles: following Slater and the crime and following Conan Doyle's attempts to bring to light the farce of justice that was Slater's case. While overall the book is interesting, Fox never seems able to decide what kind of story she's telling. Is this a murder mystery where ominous statements and cliffhangers are needed at the end of every chapter? Is it a biography of two men who only met in person once, but had a deep impact on each other's lives? Is it a new literary critique of Conan Doyle's Holmes and his place in the canon of detective fiction? Is it a history of the development of forensic science and the criminal justice system of Scotland and England? Fox wants the answer to be: yes, it is all of those. The result is an interesting, though often rambling, Conan Doyle for the Defense- a story of crime that is probably more memorable because of the crime that happened after the murder- the criminally negligent (at best) railroading of an innocent man.Although the draw of the story will be, for most people, Arthur Conan Doyle, and though Conan Doyle is on nearly every page of the book, he really had very little to do with the case as a 'case'. The actual murderer is never caught- although Doyle and others on Slater's side had their suspicions. Doyle does not produce the true killer and clear an innocent through any Holmesian insights. What he does that is remarkable for the time is to step above the reflexive prejudice against Slater as a foreigner, a gambler, a Jew, and a scoundrel. Unlike the judge, the jury, supposed 'eyewitnesses' and the general public as a whole, Doyle argued that a man was innocent until proven guilty and should not be a scapegoat for the police simply because they had no other convenient man on hand to blame. The case against Slater was not even built on a house of cards- solid if looked at in the right light. It was as solid as a house of Swiss Cheese. But, as Fox goes into repetitive detail to show, because Slater was Other and could be made to fit the image of the turn of the century bogeyman, he was convicted. An interesting look into turn of the century British criminal justice and morals, Conan Doyle for the Defense is a highly receptive, not always well-written, slightly rambling account of a terrible miscarriage of justice and a stubborn writer's work to help champion the correction of that miscarriage. Despite this, it will be interesting to history lovers (and especially to lawyers) and interesting to those readers looking to discover more about the life of Arthur Conan Doyle.
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  • Cleo Bannister
    January 1, 1970
    Conan Doyle for the Defence was a real treat for someone who loves historical true crime and into the bargain I got to know a little more about the creator of Sherlock Holmes.The true crime is the brutal murder of Marion Gilchrist. A wealthy elderly spinster who lived in a secure apartment, almost paranoid about her precious jewels being stolen. She was pretty much estranged from most of her family and lived with her maid Helen Lambie in a tightly organised fashion as you’d expect from a woman o Conan Doyle for the Defence was a real treat for someone who loves historical true crime and into the bargain I got to know a little more about the creator of Sherlock Holmes.The true crime is the brutal murder of Marion Gilchrist. A wealthy elderly spinster who lived in a secure apartment, almost paranoid about her precious jewels being stolen. She was pretty much estranged from most of her family and lived with her maid Helen Lambie in a tightly organised fashion as you’d expect from a woman of her class. On 21 December 1908 Helen Lambie left the house to buy the paper and by the time she returned a little more than ten minutes later, her employer was dead. Fortunately Helen, along with the downstairs neighbour had caught a passing glimpse of the murderer and she was also able to identify a missing diamond crescent-shaped brooch.The police were involved and from the passing of time it is clear to see that the man they pursued, a Jewish man called Oscar Slater, was done for all the wrong reasons. Margalit Fox takes us through the anti-Semitic sentiment of the times and the fear of those immoral trades which Oscar also seemed to be caught up in.The author also treats us to an explanation of how easy it is to identify the wrong man, especially if the police kindly give some clues as to who they think is the perpetrator of a crime.To cut a long, but interesting story short, Oscar Slater is convicted of murder and Conan Doyle became interested in the case, but equally interestingly, he didn’t rate the man himself. The author then draws parallels between Conan Doyle’s work as a doctor and the skills needed to solve a crime. Working back from what is known, the symptoms or the body through the absolute facts. Something that didn’t happen with the police work carried out in Glasgow when Marion Gilchrist’s body was found! There are also parallels between Conon Doyle’s deductive skills (I’m not going to mention the lengthy explanation on how he actually practiced abduction) and those of his fictional detective which the author ascribes to his mentor at medical school who used his own keen observations to work out a person’s profession, address and other details from the mud on his shoe or the amount of lint on his hat.I was absolutely fascinated by this read, there was a lot of information and one couldn’t help but wonder how Oscar coped with nearly two decades of being in Petershead prison with his family far away in Germany. When you consider he had no correspondence with them for the entirety of the WWI his fortitude is even more astounding.Of course any book of this nature can if care is not taken to take an incredulous tone, it is after all easy to be wise at this distance of time, but the author did keep any such observations relevant to the time of the crime, relaying the disquiet of the wider public once the initial hysteria had died down. All in all this was a sad episode in criminal justice and it is thanks to Conan Doyle that the case was re-examined. Interestingly Oscar Slater was one of the reasons that the appeals court was set up. One of many, many interesting facts I learnt from Margalit Fox!
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  • Michael Perkins
    January 1, 1970
    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/24/us...the real and fake csi.....https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/fi...https://www.texasmonthly.com/politics...https://www.texasmonthly.com/articles...https://www.texasmonthly.com/tag/wron...https://www.theguardian.com/world/201...https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5...http://thehill.com/policy/technology/...
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  • Marti
    January 1, 1970
    The first third of this book is hopeless repetition. The author adds a bit of new information to a chapter and surrounds it with information previously covered. Then, quite suddenly, the story picks up speed and clarity and becomes the anticipated tale! Wonderful photographs are also included. 2.5 stars for the first third of the book and 5 stars for the final 2/3= my 4 star rating.
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  • javadiva
    January 1, 1970
    Don’t recommend. I did learn a little fascinating things about Doyle’s character, but I might find his bio more interesting.
  • WSF
    January 1, 1970
    As some other reviewers have mentioned, Margalit Fox's retelling of this story of justice miscarried suffers from her constant insertions of unnecessary, judgemental commentary. Yes, I think most people would agree that racism, anti-Semitism and imperialism, whether practised 100 years ago or today, are reprehensible. That's surely a given. Not for Fox, who has to tell us time and time again how wrong-headed or right-headed her gallery of characters were. There are also annoying inconsistencies As some other reviewers have mentioned, Margalit Fox's retelling of this story of justice miscarried suffers from her constant insertions of unnecessary, judgemental commentary. Yes, I think most people would agree that racism, anti-Semitism and imperialism, whether practised 100 years ago or today, are reprehensible. That's surely a given. Not for Fox, who has to tell us time and time again how wrong-headed or right-headed her gallery of characters were. There are also annoying inconsistencies in the narrative. For instance, a time frame is 'barely an hour' in one place and 'seventy minutes' a few pages later. Slater, the story's central figure, might have been a pimp, was said to be a pimp, wasn't a pimp––again all within a few pages. This fact or falsehood is kept half-alive simply in order for it to limp along through the telling a little longer, a narrative technique that has become annoyingly common in popular non-fiction. I also wonder about a writer who weighs (literally) a piece of evidence and uses its light weight to construct an irony about its evidentiary importance. This sort of literalness keeps on cropping up. She finds it inconceivable that Conan Doyle the rationalist (good) could coexist with Conan Doyle the spirituality (bad). The tale being told is inherently interesting but Fox is not its ideal servant.
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  • Melissa Dee
    January 1, 1970
    The “racialization of crime” is a horrifying but timely phrase. In the case outlined by Fox, the accused “affronted the sensibilities of the age”. What a depressing familiarity that sentiment expresses. I enjoyed this book, although its detailed outline of the crime and the “criminal” were at times somewhat *too* detailed. The book was a total immersion into Great Britain of the time.
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  • Jenny
    January 1, 1970
    *I received an advance reader's copy of this book, so I will not directly quote from this, just comment generally.*Conan Doyle for the Defense by Margalit Fox is a fascinating true crime novel about a rather unknown aspect of history, especially for those of us in America. I can’t say I know much about Glasgow history, much less crimes that happened there. So reading this was quite entertaining and interesting.The book outlines what is known about the case, the murder of an elderly woman named M *I received an advance reader's copy of this book, so I will not directly quote from this, just comment generally.*Conan Doyle for the Defense by Margalit Fox is a fascinating true crime novel about a rather unknown aspect of history, especially for those of us in America. I can’t say I know much about Glasgow history, much less crimes that happened there. So reading this was quite entertaining and interesting.The book outlines what is known about the case, the murder of an elderly woman named Miss Gilchrist. We hear about the witnesses’ statements, then about the search for the suspect, Oscar Slater. Then, in quite meticulous detail, Fox describes the trial and Slater’s subsequent conviction and imprisonment. Especially at this point, we realize just how timely this book is — so much of this case is based on prejudice, xenophobia, and profiling. The fact that Slater is not only a Jewish man but also has a lifestyle that the uptight, intolerant Victorians do not approve of makes this story quite similar to current events.This book does not just chronicle this crime and investigation, though of course that is the main point. It also focuses on Conan Doyle’s life, particularly his own formidable skills at what his great creation Holmes calls “the science of deduction.” Fox takes us through the inspiration for the stories, Dr. Joseph Bell, and how the logical reasoning he employed — more accurately called “abduction” as opposed to “deduction” — inspired Conan Doyle. So getting a glimpse behind the famous detective and his creator added weight to Conan Doyle’s decision to help Slater.The endgame of the novel is clear from the beginning — Fox tells in the description of the book, in fact, that Conan Doyle’s efforts get Slater, wrongly convicted, released from jail — but the path to that point, and who the real killer is, is what keeps the reader invested. Furthermore, I was surprised to find out about the tense, distant, rather volatile relationship between Slater and Conan Doyle. Particularly in the chapter “The Knight and the Knave” we see the complexities between their interaction; Conan Doyle, while a bit of a progressive Victorian, still possessed many of the attitudes so prevalent then, and Slater’s brash, dandy, unconventional (again, for the time) clashes with that in an engrossing way, and I really enjoyed reading about it.I loved reading Conan Doyle for the Defense. Fox has a great narrative voice that helps this to read somewhere between a murder mystery novel and a more serious nonfiction. The exploration of the society of the day, the culture of Glasgow, the crime itself, the behavior and procedures of the police force, the origin of Holmes’ brilliance, and the Conan Doyle–Slater relationship make this a detailed, comprehensive look at this story. Every aspect is well-researched, well-written, and well-presented. I think this book would appeal to many people, particularly fans of the mystery genre and specifically, the Sherlock Holmes stories. It’s rare for me to say this, but I think I’d like to read this again, as I’m sure there’s more to get out of it for me than the first time around!
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  • Phil Smith
    January 1, 1970
    While Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created what is arguably the most famous fictional detective of all time, what is far less known are his own efforts toward seeing justice served. Conan Doyle for the Defense by Margalit Fox describes just such a case. This is the story of Oscar Slater and the murder he was convicted of: that of an elderly, wealthy jewelry collector, Marion Gilchrist. Gilchrist was brutally beaten to death in her apartment, and a diamond brooch was stolen. When Slater was found to ha While Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created what is arguably the most famous fictional detective of all time, what is far less known are his own efforts toward seeing justice served. Conan Doyle for the Defense by Margalit Fox describes just such a case. This is the story of Oscar Slater and the murder he was convicted of: that of an elderly, wealthy jewelry collector, Marion Gilchrist. Gilchrist was brutally beaten to death in her apartment, and a diamond brooch was stolen. When Slater was found to have pawned a diamond brooch, his fate was sealed, even though his proved to be a different one than that owned by the victim. This did not deter the police, however, from continuing to build their case. A foreigner and a Jew like Slater living in Glasgow in this era was treated with suspicion from the outset. Add his interests in gambling, and the possibility that he was pimping out his girlfriend, and public opinion was very much against him. This was a time when Jewish immigration was on the rise, and with the addition of many poorer immigrants came wild accusations and categorizations of Jews as, “..traitors, swindlers, blackmailers, and perjurors.” After introducing us to the crime, Fox offers background material on Doyle and his writings, not only Holmes but other novels and short stories he worked on throughout his early years. Holmes was not the original thinking detective, as Edgar Allan Poe created the character of Dupin many years prior. We also learn of Joseph Bell, a real-life instructor of Doyle’s and an inspiration for Holmes and his amazing powers of deduction. Fox spends time detailing the method of “abduction,” where a crime has been committed and investigators seek a theory of the crime. This should have been the technique applied to the Gilchrist case, but of course the facts did not fit any theory put forth. The other method in vogue at the time was “criminology,” essentially profiling individuals based on origin, appearance, etc., with the thought that it can predict who would commit a crime. Slater was the victim of just this approach. Doyle published his own account, The Case for Oscar Slater, in 1912, after poring over papers from the trial and interviews. He never saw the crime scene, and had only the records of others to draw on, yet he correctly deduced that the murderer was not after jewels at all but actually a will, a family squabble that became public 2 years later. After Slater has served his time and had his appeal, the relationship between Doyle and Slater takes an unfortunate turn. Doyle feels that Slater should behave like a gentleman, but he, as the author says, “...takes on a regrettable Pygmalion aspect.” In the closing of the book, the author, to my delight, refuses to speculate on who the murderer was after such a huge rift in time, but instead leaves the facts to speak for themselves.
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  • Madelon
    January 1, 1970
    Let me begin by saying that I am a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. I started reading the stories by Conan Doyle in elementary school (no pun intended). Jeremy Brett's portrayal… iconic! Robert Downey, Jr… broadened my appreciation of the character. Benedict Cumberbatch… be still my beating heart. Jonny Lee Miller… let's go back to iconic. All of these enactments have done one thing; they have perpetuated the myth that is Sherlock Holmes, the creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Writers write what th Let me begin by saying that I am a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. I started reading the stories by Conan Doyle in elementary school (no pun intended). Jeremy Brett's portrayal… iconic! Robert Downey, Jr… broadened my appreciation of the character. Benedict Cumberbatch… be still my beating heart. Jonny Lee Miller… let's go back to iconic. All of these enactments have done one thing; they have perpetuated the myth that is Sherlock Holmes, the creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Writers write what they know. Yes, they extrapolate and exaggerate, but the essence of great stories is the truth of personal experience upon which they are built. Conan Doyle was no different.The early 20th century was still heavily under the influence of the Victorian Era which was both a time of progress and industry alongside extreme poverty and class consciousness. This was a time of nationalism that singled out anyone who was 'other.' In CONAN DOYLE FOR THE DEFENSE, the term "convenient other" is prominent. If someone fit into that category, they were liable for whatever wrong the police might decide they committed. A "convenient other" was no more than a scapegoat, something with which we are all too familiar today.This is as much a biography of Conan Doyle as it is an exposé of system that put an innocent man within steps of the gallows. As you may, or may not know, Conan Doyle trained and worked as a physician. His professor and mentor, Dr. Joseph Bell, taught him the value of keen, and minute observation, the one quality so admired in Sherlock Holmes. Thus Conan Doyle's medical training aided him in the creation of the great detective, and, by extrapolation, made him a keen investigator in his own right. Remember, the best stories come from what you know. From there, a little imagination allows knowledge to bloom into story.This is a book for those who read true crime, or that read history, or who, like me, have been captivated by the myth that is Sherlock Holmes. To say that I enjoyed this book is surely not enough. I felt immersed in a bit of history and found new insight into the mind of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
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  • Karen
    January 1, 1970
    Conan Doyle for the DefenceIn 1908, an 82-year-old spinster, Marion Gilchrist, was found bludgeoned to death in her own Glasgow home. The police soon had who they believed was the culprit – a German Jew called Oscar Slater. Despite having an alibi, Slater was convicted and sentenced to death before having his sentence commuted to life imprisonment in Peterhead Prison. Seventeen years later, William Gordon, a fellow inmate, was released, taking with him a smuggled message from Slater to someone w Conan Doyle for the DefenceIn 1908, an 82-year-old spinster, Marion Gilchrist, was found bludgeoned to death in her own Glasgow home. The police soon had who they believed was the culprit – a German Jew called Oscar Slater. Despite having an alibi, Slater was convicted and sentenced to death before having his sentence commuted to life imprisonment in Peterhead Prison. Seventeen years later, William Gordon, a fellow inmate, was released, taking with him a smuggled message from Slater to someone who he thought could help him to clear his name – the writer Arthur Conan Doyle. This is the story of how the Sherlock Holmes writer helped to free the man who had become the subject of a huge miscarriage of justice.In recent years, mainly thanks to the BBC Sherlock series, there has been a renewed interest in the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The TV adaptation of Arthur and George by Julian Barnes also introduced the public to how, although Sherlock Holmes was a fictional character, Conan Doyle was certainly not and, he too, dabbled in detection.Conan Doyle for the Defence has police corruption, ineptitude and racial prejudice at its core. Shortly after the elderly woman’s murder, those responsible for finding the culprit had their sights firmly set on Oscar Slater. Despite him having an alibi, having no knowledge of the dead woman and there being no evidence whatsoever, Slater was arrested, tried for her murder and subsequently sentenced to death. This was commuted to life imprisonment and he would spend the following decades incarcerated in one of the toughest prisons in Scotland. Conan Doyle would spend many years trying to help to free him and even published The Case of Oscar Slater in 1912.It is clear that the author has done much research into the case and, as a result, has provided a comprehensive overview of the trial, incarceration and release of Slater. The transcriptions of correspondence between himself and his family were particularly moving and really brought home how his family, themselves suffering due to the First World War, never gave up hope that, one day, justice would finally prevail.I found Conan Doyle for the Defence a fascinating read, leaving me with a sense of despair that the justice system allowed this to happen. Highly recommended to those who enjoy reading true crime and any Sherlock Holmes fans.
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  • Linda
    January 1, 1970
    I'm not a great fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but love them as TV adaptations. I knew that Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional ideas had contributed to the development of police detective work, but I had not realized that he had also used his reputation and clue-reading skills to intervene in the case of a man he viewed as innocent of a murder, who barely avoided a swift sentence of death. In 1909 Oscar Slater was a German Jewish immigrant to Scotland who seemed to live by his style and wits an I'm not a great fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but love them as TV adaptations. I knew that Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional ideas had contributed to the development of police detective work, but I had not realized that he had also used his reputation and clue-reading skills to intervene in the case of a man he viewed as innocent of a murder, who barely avoided a swift sentence of death. In 1909 Oscar Slater was a German Jewish immigrant to Scotland who seemed to live by his style and wits and not necessarily by following the prudish Victorian standards of the day. Fox provides brief biographies of Conan Doyle and Slater, and goes into the social background of the times, how changes in society were bringing about great distrust of foreigners (and Jews) which made poor Oscar a handy scapegoat to quickly solve the brutal murder of a sour, wealthy spinster in her well-locked home. Like any true-life crime drama, Fox delves into the circumstances and actions of all the witnesses, police, lawyers and judges and clearly lays out how evidence was suppressed and legal corruption possibly covered up for a leading citizen. Holmes was convinced to take up the cause of exonerating Slater more than once. Only in the 1920s had attitudes changed enough to free Slater from 18 years in a harsh prison, but also to provide him with some restitution payment for his misery--but the appeal came about only because Conan Doyle was instrumental in changing Scottish law to institute a criminal appeals court. Fox observes Conan Doyle's own prejudices and how that affected his viewpoint, but luckily he did not share the popular hatred of "The Foreigner."
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  • Floyd
    January 1, 1970
    Most readers know of Sherlock Holmes and the author who made him famous — Arthur Conan Doyle. But Doyle was far more than an author — he was a trained Physician with a practice of ophthalmology and he was a consulting detective (ala Holmes) in his own right.This book describes the work Doyle completed for Oscar Slator over nearly 20 years in order that justice would be done. But the book is far more –* it is a biographical snippet of both Doyle’s and Slater’s lives* a glance at the Scottish syst Most readers know of Sherlock Holmes and the author who made him famous — Arthur Conan Doyle. But Doyle was far more than an author — he was a trained Physician with a practice of ophthalmology and he was a consulting detective (ala Holmes) in his own right.This book describes the work Doyle completed for Oscar Slator over nearly 20 years in order that justice would be done. But the book is far more –* it is a biographical snippet of both Doyle’s and Slater’s lives* a glance at the Scottish system of jurisprudence at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century* it is also a survey of criminology as practiced at the end of the 19th centuryand it gives us a glimpse at the English penal systems during that same timeMargalit Fox has woven these various stories into a very readable tale that will enthrall both Sherlock’s fans, the reader of more traditional legal dramas, and the historian’s desire for more.The book is fully documented (the last 30% of the book consists of references and notes). Though missing from my electronic ARC, the final book is said to be accompanied by maps helping the reader follow the character’s and the murderer’s path through Scotland and England. It is these added features, along with easy access to the Internet, which bring the book to life.Though non-fiction, the book reads like a modern-day thriller. And that is what will make the book an inviting read to many 21st century readers.______________This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions are mine alone.
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  • Constance
    January 1, 1970
    I received this book through NetGalley for an honest review and I am happy to provide one. I have followed the author's books as well as her career at the New York Times and anticipated a good read, I was not disappointed. This is a whip smart written book and a brilliantly researched true story.The book relates the story of Oscar Slater and how he was railroaded for a murder he didn't commit. It chronicles the 18 years he served in a brutal Scottish prison and the unlikely allay he has in Conan I received this book through NetGalley for an honest review and I am happy to provide one. I have followed the author's books as well as her career at the New York Times and anticipated a good read, I was not disappointed. This is a whip smart written book and a brilliantly researched true story.The book relates the story of Oscar Slater and how he was railroaded for a murder he didn't commit. It chronicles the 18 years he served in a brutal Scottish prison and the unlikely allay he has in Conan Doyle, who ultimately secured his release. There are a few themes interwoven in this true story. A terribly sad story of a life ruined by prejudice and the police run amuck. There is a highly readable history of the criminal justice system in England and Scotland in a period of time where forensic science was just beginning . How Conan Doyle, the man who invented Sherlock Holmes, applied Holmes' investigative techniques into the real life crime story of Oscar Slater in an effort to clear his name and earn his release from prison as well as a look into Conan Doyle's private life and his long lasting search for justice. It also is a surprisingly contemporary story about how the media and the government can profile, vilify, and legislate against an immigrant community to the extent, in this case, that an innocent man went to prison for 23 years. The wording used in 1905 against the Jews is very evocative of the news of today. Following along with the twists and turns of this story was engrossing and entertaining and heartbreaking. It was a great read!
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  • Suzanne
    January 1, 1970
    Mystery and true crime readers, this is a double treat. A complicated story of police malfeasance, perjury, witness tampering, wrongful prosecution, conviction and imprisonment - and it's all true! Author Margalit Fox has crafted a narrative that explains the crime, the actions of the law enforcement and judicial persons involved in the arrest and trial, and how Conan Doyle came to be involved. But the book also grounds the entire case in the social milieu of the times, explaining the prevailing Mystery and true crime readers, this is a double treat. A complicated story of police malfeasance, perjury, witness tampering, wrongful prosecution, conviction and imprisonment - and it's all true! Author Margalit Fox has crafted a narrative that explains the crime, the actions of the law enforcement and judicial persons involved in the arrest and trial, and how Conan Doyle came to be involved. But the book also grounds the entire case in the social milieu of the times, explaining the prevailing attitudes and prejudices that fed into the situation and resulting injustice. Examples from various Sherlock Holmes stories are interwoven, along with quotes from other researchers and writers who have traced the threads of the story, remembrances of Adrian Conan Doyle and even copies of letters from the convicted man to his family and friends. Taken together, it paints a picture of a time when it was common for "the conflation of foreignness with criminality, a contrivance used to justify identifying, marginalizing, and punishing the convenient Other." Perhaps readers might even notice some similarities between the climate 100 years ago and that of today.Highly recommended for those interested in legal history, murder mysteries, and all things Conan Doyle. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.
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  • Becca
    January 1, 1970
    Margalit Fox is probably my current favorite non-fiction writer. She has an unrivaled ability to both tell a very detailed story and also provide a context that makes it meaningful. In this case, the story is the wrongful imprisonment of the Jewish German immigrant Oscar Slater, and the navigation of his subsequent release by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The context chapters are wide-ranging, for instance: the history of criminology versus true forensic science (the former assumes the type of person Margalit Fox is probably my current favorite non-fiction writer. She has an unrivaled ability to both tell a very detailed story and also provide a context that makes it meaningful. In this case, the story is the wrongful imprisonment of the Jewish German immigrant Oscar Slater, and the navigation of his subsequent release by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The context chapters are wide-ranging, for instance: the history of criminology versus true forensic science (the former assumes the type of person a criminal is, then looks for clues to support it, while the latter uses abductive reasoning to come to a conclusion), Victorian sensibility and the life and times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who apparently really hated being called Arthur casually). But the bulk of the context chapters focus on the xenophobia of Victorian Scotland with a particular focus on their anti-semitism and abject hatred of immigrants. Obviously, I found this highly relevant to current events. I felt like she had a little more zip when writing about linguistics in her two previous books. I also missed the formal alternation of chapters -- in Conan Doyle for the Defense there's a poor balance of thematic chapters and plot chapters in some sections. Nonetheless, I learned a lot and really enjoyed the narrative while doing so.
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  • Lora
    January 1, 1970
    Did not finish. That aside, it is a well organized book with good pacing and detail. The writing is well done and the topic is both historical and relatable to today's society. All that said, I really enjoyed certain chapters and totally bogged down in others. It wasn't that the boggy chapters were a fault of the author. No, what was happening was my attention span, my focus, and my interest simply flagged like a shift in the trade winds. All I wanted was the Wiki article to give me bullet point Did not finish. That aside, it is a well organized book with good pacing and detail. The writing is well done and the topic is both historical and relatable to today's society. All that said, I really enjoyed certain chapters and totally bogged down in others. It wasn't that the boggy chapters were a fault of the author. No, what was happening was my attention span, my focus, and my interest simply flagged like a shift in the trade winds. All I wanted was the Wiki article to give me bullet points or some such short term commitment. That's not the fault of this book; it's a mood swing I encounter from time to time these days. I enjoyed the large parts of this book that I read. Maybe if I had had fewer work and personal projects going on I might have sunk further into the book. As it is, I scanned and gulped and found the answers to my questions quickly rather than hung around savoring the writing like I often do. It is a good book.Coming back to add this: after some thought I feel there is something vaguely repetitive about this book that had nothing to do with the history. I removed the stars because honestly, I never finished it. Maybe my attention span got in the way, or maybe something bogged me down that really was the book. I don't know.
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