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
For 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.
A senior writer at The New York Times, Margalit Fox is considered one of the foremost explanatory writers and literary stylists in American journalism. As a member of the newspaper’s celebrated obituary news department, she has written front-page send-offs of some of the leading cultural figures of our age. (Conan Doyle for the Defense is in many ways a fond belated obituary for the long-overlooked Oscar Slater, an immigrant everyman treated inexcusably by history.) Fox’s previous book, The Riddle of the Labyrinth, won the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, the writer and critic George Robinson.
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
Published by Random House
Jun 26, 2018