I've mentioned before Raymond Postgate's Verdict of Twelve, but I wanted to read it again before featuring it as a Friday Forgotten Book, and this I've now done. In all, I've read it three times - first in an edition with an excellent intro by Michael Gilbert, who selected some splendid crime classics for a series published by Hodder. He is far from alone in admiring Verdict of Twelve. Postgate was the brother in law of G.D.H. Cole, but his novel was very different from Cole's work - it owed much more in its ironic style to Anthony Berkeley.
The book has three parts plus an epilogue. In the first part,we are introduced to members of a jury about to hear a murder case. One or two of the jurors have dark secrets of their own, and Postgate provides a series of vivid portraits that I found gripping. One character, a dry academic, reminded me a bit of Douglas Cole, actually, though Postgate wisely made sure that there were differences as well as similarities in the man's CV and personality.
The second part of the story tells us about the murder. But who is to be the victim, and who the killer? It's a rather grim story about cruelty to a child, and it has a literary inspiration that is not explained until the later stages of the book. Then comes the third part, which takes us inside the jury room,and shows how the debate about guilt and innocence shifts - often according to prejudice, rather than reason. If you are sceptical about juries - and I always have been - this book does nothing to make you share the view of such great lawyers as Lord Denning and Lord Devlin that the jury is an essential bulwark of freedom and justice.
There is a nice twist in the epilogue, but I guess the big question about this novel is - what does it tell us about justice? Nothing comfortable, that's for sure. Postgate's Marxist take on things won't be to everyone's taste, but I enjoyed this book as much on a third reading as I did previously. I really must try again Postgate's two later crime novels - when I first read them, I felt they were a let-down, but maybe they are worth another look. In any case, Verdict of Twelve remains a must-read for any fan of classic crime.