Friday, 13 May 2016

Forgotten Book - The King against Anne Bickerton

My Forgotten Book for today was written by an author once well-known, who evidently fancied himself as a social commentator. This was Sydney Fowler, a name adopted by Sydney Fowler Wright, an author who became prolific in the fields of sci-fi and historical writing, as well as crime, after his career in accountancy came to an end, apparently as a result of severe financial embarrassments.

The King against Anne Bickerton, first published in 1930, was well-regarded enough to become a green Penguin paperback, under the title Rex v Anne Bickerton, which makes it clearer that this is a story about a murder trial, rather than some form of royal vendetta. But it's still a slightly misleading title, because the larger part of the book is devoted to a coroner's inquest which precedes the trial.

The wife of James Hackett, a businessman, dies as a result of arsenic poisoning. The husband seems to be in the clear, even though there are suspicions that he has been carrying on with Rose Dorling, the cool young woman who looks after the children. The deceased's sister, Anne Bickerton, is another suspect. She too has become involved in an unwise romantic relationship.

The main point of the book, it seems to me, is for Fowler to turn his fire on the legal establishment. The police come in for a kicking, as does the judge and the prosecution. The element of mystery about the death is maintained quite well, but it's by no mean a gripping puzzle. I found myself waiting for a rabbit to be pulled out of the hat, and there was indeed an unexpected outcome, although a rather unsatisfactory one. The characters are evoked in quite a bit of detail, and yet some of their actions seemed rather unconvincing to me. The "hanging judge" was probably the most striking and credible person in the book. An odd story, then. Not entirely satisfactory, by any means, but intriguing all the same.


Clothes In Books said...

I have this book, the green penguin with the Rex title - I was staring at your title a while, wondering why it was both familiar and unfamiliar, before reading on and finding out why. I read it years ago, and remember nothing, but do know I liked it enough to find some other books by him, which I liked even more. Never seen anyone mention him before...

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Moira. I'd be interested to know a little more about the other books by him that you've read.