Conan Doyle for the Defence ★★★★★

Conan Doyle for the Defence
Margalit Fox


Genre(s) | Nonfiction, True Crime, History, Mystery, Biography
Goodreads Rating | 3.70
Humpo Show Rating | 4.75
Published: 2018
Publisher: Profile Books

Conan Doyle for the Defence

A wealthy 82-year-old woman is found brutally murdered in her home with her diamond brooch missing. Oscar Slater, a German migrant, was arrested and convicted for her murder despite the fact the police had no credible evidence tying him to the murder. He would spend the next 18 years in HM Prison Peterhead in Scotland before being released following some help from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, has written about about plenty of crimes in the world of fiction, but in 1925, he was asked to help solve a real crime and clear an innocent man from a life behind bars. A convict by the name of William Gordon, who, following his release from Peterhead’s prison, brought a message wrapped in waterproof paper that was minutely folded and concealed in his false teeth. The message was from Slater.

The case pertaining to Slater was incredible. Hearing how implausible the police’s case was against him was awful and sensational in equal measure. Having a step-by-step analysis of the case by Conan Doyle was a pleasure to read as well – it reminded me of Holmes and Watson in 221b Baker Street discussing the many cases they solved together. The more I read about the murder, the more I agreed with Conan Doyle and Fox in that it was very likely that Slater and the murdered woman, Marion Gilchrist, never met.

As well as detailing the case and the subsequent attempts at getting justice for Slater, Fox provided an in depth analysis of many aspects that played a role in Slater’s case, including the social politics of the time in Scotland – this was very important in understanding the police’s investigation and the court’s verdict.

Conan Doyle for the Defence also comes across as a bit of a biography for Conan Doyle himself. It was fascinating to read about the man behind the Sherlock Holmes stories; everything from his time at university where he met surgeon and lecturer Joseph Bell, who later would be the inspiration for Conan Doyle’s famous detective, to his later years where he spent time looking into spiritualism. There was also space for other crimes that Conan Doyle solved too! This book has definitely whet my appetite for reading a biography about him as well as other non-Sherlock Holmes novels that he has written.

Fox has produced a well-researched, interesting and delightful book that not only covers the case of Oscar Slater in minute detail, but also provides the reasons for how such a miscarriage of justice was made and the steps that Conan Doyle made to get Slater his freedom. A brilliant book for anyone interested in true crime and Conan Doyle.


The Humpo Show | Richard

2 thoughts on “Conan Doyle for the Defence ★★★★★

  1. Great review, Richard! I was a huge fan of the Sherlock Holmes novels growing up, and had heard how Doyle was involved in solving several cases throughout his life. This book sounds quite interesting, and might be the perfect nonfiction read I needed to pick up this year! Thanks for sharing!

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