By Eliana H.
Although I’ve enjoyed many a Sherlock Holmes adaptation in the form of film or television, or even spinoff books, I will admit that I haven’t read the original stories myself. I certainly don’t know a great deal about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the famous creator of the residents of 221b Baker Street. I do, however, know quite a bit more now than before reading 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 by Margalit Fox. Nonfiction is not my usual wheelhouse, but I will admit my interest was piqued by the book’s cover and description, which happened to be available as an e-audiobook when I was looking for my next listen. (It is also available in print and as an e-book).
Many people have heard of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as an author, specifically of the series of detective stories featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. His impact extends beyond those characters, though. Conan Doyle was trained as a physician himself, and he became enthusiastic about spiritualism in his later life. He also assisted with real-life criminal cases on occasion. One such situation is the focus of Conan Doyle for the Defense. That case involved an emigrant to Scotland who was wrongfully arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for a murder he did not commit.
Oscar Slater was a German Jew who had traveled to different parts of the world before ending up in Glasgow, Scotland in 1901. Then, in December 1908, a wealthy spinster named Marion Gilchrist was brutally killed in her home in that city. A very tenuous connection was made to Slater, and the prevailing attitudes and crime-solving techniques of the time ensnared him firmly, leading to his conviction and imprisonment in His Majesty’s Prison Peterhead. Eventually, Conan Doyle was able to help win Slater his freedom.
Fox’s descriptions of the case, the criminal justice system, and the Edwardian time period provided vivid images of the tale as it unfolded. Excerpts of court documents, letters written by Slater, and Conan Doyle’s own texts provide additional insight into the case. The print book includes maps and photographs, as well as extensive notes to support the text. Fans of Sherlock Holmes may be interested to learn more about Conan Doyle’s life and inspiration for his characters, and the miscarriage of justice highlighted in the book can provide a reminder for all of us that there is always more to a case than appears at first glance.
Eliana is a Children’s Research Specialist and Instructor at HCLS Elkridge Branch. She loves reading, even if she’s slow at it, and especially enjoys helping people find books that make them light up. She also loves being outside and spending time with friends and family (when it’s safe).