Tuesday 18 December 2007

Dr Crippen and Val McDermid

Despite an unpromising beginning, it’s turned into a very good day. After an early start, a tedious commute and a long morning in a law firm board meeting (none of which are my absolute favourite ways of passing the time), I raced through the streets of Liverpool city centre at lunchtime, dodging the frantic crowds of Christmas shoppers, to make it to Radio Merseyside just in time for a down-the-line interview with Val McDermid. She was in a studio in Manchester, and we were recording a discussion for BBC Radio Scotland. Such are the wonders of technology...

The interview was for a programme which focuses on forensic investigations in real-life cases. The Crippen story is a historical landmark for several reasons, not least because of the crucial part played by the prosecution’s expert witness, Bernard Spilsbury, whose career was just getting under way when Crippen was tried for his life. Spilsbury was a complex and fascinating character, and his authoritative testimony impressed many a jury – today, a more sceptical view of some of his evidence might prevail. Crippen was found guilty in less than half an hour, following a trial lasting just five days.

Val asked at the end if I had ideas about any other true crime case with a historically important forensic aspect for future programmes, and I suggested the Buck Ruxton case. Buck was a Lancaster doctor of the 30s who ended up, like Crippen, on the gallows. To this day, a pub in Lancaster bears his name.

When I was approached by the BBC to take part in the series, I didn’t realise that Val would be involved. She and I have known each other for more than fifteen years, having first met in Yorkshire long ago, at a lunch meeting of the Northern Chapter of the Crime Writers’ Association. In fact, we were contemporaries at Oxford in the 70s, but our paths never crossed there. I’ve enjoyed her books over the years, perhaps in particular those featuring Tony Hill. Her occasional stand-alones are also very good. Not too long ago she wrote a novel set in the Lake District and revealed that the germ of the idea came from...a talk a few years back at a Northern Chapter meeting.

1 comment:

Maxine Clarke said...

Fascinating post -- I will restrain myself from joining in with commuting stories as it is so awful and depressing, best forgotten when not actually having to do it.
Interesting what you write about Val McDermid (whose books I love-- I reviewed her recentish Lake District one for the Philadelphia Inquirer). I was also a contemporary of hers (and now, I realise, yours!) at Oxford but our paths did not cross to my memory -- strangely in my case as we were even at the same college (St Hilda's) and I have a memory of seeing her name on a door fairly near mine, so we must have seen if not registered each other. The Internet is a much smaller world than being a contemporary of someone's at university, it seems!