Friday 1 November 2013

Fogotten Book - Verdict of Twelve

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.


Kelly Robinson said...

The structure of this sounds really intriguing. Thanks for the review.

Martin Edwards said...

I'm sure you'd enjoy it, Kelly

Clothes In Books said...

I enjoyed it too, and felt very much as you did, entertaining but not a classic. But I LOVED that setting!

Unknown said...

Wonderful writing, but the first part of the novel set such a high standard that I felt let down by the actual description of the crime -- particularly the epilogue, which could have been so much more effective if the possibility of the child being the poisoner and the revelation of the Srendni Vashtar story hadn't already been thoroughly discussed by the investigators. I also expected much more about the jury's deliberations, given the amount of time spent at the outset to the background of several of the jurors.

That said, I loved the book and raced to order the only other two of his I could find . . . then came to your excellent blog and discovered that I'm probably in for a disappointment! Ah well -- it does make me long for another book about juries and wonder why more hasn't been made of this psychological hotbed! I suppose we have Twelve Angry Men and The Runaway Jury, but can you think of others? --Just wondering! I know I'm very late (several years' late, actually!) to this discussion, but I just now read VERDICT OF TWELVE and simply had to write about it! I always enjoy the Forgotten Book posts and do eventually get around to reading all that I can . . .