Famous Trials

Famous Trials - John Mortimer, James H. Hodge, Harry Hodge [These notes were made in 1984:]. It is a sign of the times, I suppose, that this 1984 reissue is a selection from abridgements of the Notable British Trials series. Mortimer's name is stuck on the front chiefly as a selling point, I think, but he has managed to inject a little modern sensibility into his introduction, objecting violently to the slightly gruesome complacency about capital punishment which pervades these accounts (written up in the '40s, I think). [2010 note: actually the series ran from 1921 until late into the 1950s] The trials themselves are fairly interesting, and so was the variety of tone taken by the authors of the accounts: one felt far closer to the motives and personalities in - say - the Madeleine Smith trial, even tho' it took place in 1857, than in the Ronald True case, which revolves largely around legal technicalities about the insanity defence. The trial itself, except where it was mishandled (as in the Slater case) is not usually the focal point of the account: rather, the whole case, whether properly unravelled in the trial or not, is usually presented. It is rather a gruesome act to collect these better-forgotten facts together (and, I suppose you will add, a gruesome act to buy and read them). The trouble is that one brings a divided consciousness to it - half the history/biography reading part of one (and that includes the slightly prurient part that reads People magazine), and half the intellectual puzzle-solver that likes mystery stories. And in the end, neither is entirely satisfied by this bombastic '40s [or early-century:] prose.