The Moat Farm Mystery, written by M.W.Oldridge,and published by the History Press, is a brand new example of the classic true crime case, thoroughly explored by a dedicated researcher. One of the reasons why the appearance of a book like this is welcome is that studies of classic true crimes - very much in vogue some years ago - seems to have gone out of fashion in recent times. Too many true crime books nowadays focus on lurid accounts of gangsters and gangland that verge on the trashy. Perhaps the pendulum will swing again, resulting in more thoughtful books like this.
The sub-title of the book is "The Life and Criminal Career of Samuel Herbert Dougal", and M.W.Oldridge does indeed cover Dougal;'s life story, rather than just focusing on the case that led to his being hanged in 1903. He was an out and out rogue, who exploited women for years before he finally resorted to murder. Ironically, as Oldridge points out, "Once, Dougal had hoped to become an executioner." Charming chap.
This a fascinating story, full of the flavour of the Edwardian era, as was the Crippen trial, which followed seven years after Dougal's death.. From the outset, Oldridge pays tribute to the Trial of Samuel herbert Dougal in the Notable British Trials series. That particular volume was edited by F.Tennyson Jesse, an exceptionally interesting writer. She says memorably of Dougal's meeting with his victim: "The potential murderer...met the born murderee." Her other work included a study of murder and its motives, and she also wrote The Solange Stories, about an amateur sleuth with a difference. But her masterpiece is A Pin to See the Peep-Show, a novel based on one of the great true crime cases. I ought to write more about that book in this blog one of these days.
For now, though, my focus is on Oldridge's book, which I suspect will appeal to those interested in historic crimes, and stories about villains with a veneer of respectability. I wish the book had included an index; a detailed work of this kind really does need one. But Dougal's story is remarkable, and it is good to have this fresh account of it.