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Publisher's Summary

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. 

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 listeners 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. 

"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. The details of this judicial travesty - unreliable witnesses, dodgy evidence and a series of coincidences that led to Slater's guilty verdict - seem ripped from one of Conan Doyle's Holmes tales." (Newsday)

©2018 Margalit Fox (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Expertly constructed, this work will appeal to Conan Doyle fans and is ideal for all true crime collections." (Library Journal)

"[Margalit] Fox...does her own detective work in unpicking the opposing personalities and careers of her protagonists.... Like a good murder mystery, Conan Doyle for the Defense is a fast-paced read that twists and turns with the panache of a Holmes short story." (The Times)

"A brisk account of the celebrated novelist's campaign to overturn a controversial murder conviction...[Fox's] extensive research into turn-of-the-century Scotland results in enlightening chapters about the era's tensions, such as the battle between ancient bigotries and a surging faith in scientific inquiry." (Star Tribune)

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Very interesting story. Great performance.

This is a very interesting book. Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle and True-Crime fans are likely to be especially interested. The performance is first-rate, with excellent voices and accents adding to the atmosphere. Not only is a complex story deftly told, but you also get a lot of insight into how crime was understood, or often misunderstood, in this era. One of the best books I have listened to in a long time.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Robert
  • Champaign, IL, United States
  • 09-12-18

Disappointing

Sadly I found this mostly boring! Even Conan-Doyle’s fans might just skip this one.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Conan Doyle for the Defense

Qudos to Margalit Fox and well read by Peter Forbes. A fascinating window into the Victorian views of the time, and into the multi-dimensional career of Conan Doyle.

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CrackerJack Story

True crime plus historical detail. Well researched and full of interesting facts. Loved the book.

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    4 out of 5 stars

Great Book. Awful accents.

Wonderfully written nonfiction. A fascinating look at the time, place, and people. Incredibly distracting narration. Why must Brits always assume they can pull off an American accent? 90% of the time it comes across as either mockery or pastiche.