Monday 24 June 2024

The Drummond Affair by Stephanie Matthews and Daniel Smith

The murder of Sir Jack Drummond and his family in Provence in 1952 was a truly shocking crime that has, so far as most criminologists are concerned, never been adequately explained. The Drummond Affair by Stephanie Matthews and Daniel Smith is a new book about the case and the authors say that, in part, their aim is to rebalance history, not least (and very laudably in my opinion) by placing more emphasis on the victims, rather than on the alleged perpetrator(s). 

The authors aim for 'a fundamental re-slanting of the entire narrative'. They say the Drummond murders 'should be one of those shared cultural reference points that everyone knows about, at least vaguely'. That may be putting it a little high, but this is certainly a thought-provoking book about an intriguing mystery.

Sir Jack Drummond was an eminent biochemist, whose work on nutrition and rationing during the Second World War was greatly admired and earned him a knighthood. He later moved to Nottingham to work for Boots. He and his wife Anne and ten-year-old daughter Elizabeth went on holiday to France, but they were gunned down one night in extraordinary circumstances. The investigation owed more to Clouseau than to Poirot and although a local farmer was convicted of the crime, there is much dispute about what really happened. The Guardian has an interesting article about the case here which isn't referenced in the book.

The authors do, however, provide a lot of interesting background information. Perhaps, though, there is an excess of minutiae about Drummond's work in nutrition; I wasn't convinced that all of this cast much light on the crime and some passages felt a little like padding. The authors are rightly critical of the failure of some investigators and criminologists to base their theories on evidence, but there are times when perhaps they fall into the same trap themselves. 

For example, there's some speculation about Anne Drummond, e.g. in relation to the extent of her contribution to a book Drummond wrote, and the source of her income, that doesn't really seem to be evidence-based, and there are other instances throughout the text. That said, I think the reality is this: it's often extremely difficult in a true crime book of this kind to avoid speculation and a bit of inspired guesswork. What matters is that the arguments are plausible and the writing style crisp and readable. This book passes both tests and I was glad to read it. 



Liz Gilbey said...

Fascinating, Martin. Had never heard of this case before, but struck me as having strong parallels to the killing of the British Iranian al-Hilli family at Chevaline in the Haute Savoire in 2012, which has also never been solved.
The French cold case unit is said to be still investigating (a theory that the French cyclist, who also died and long considered collateral damage was the real target, the al-Hillis shot as accidental witnesses) But despite a major C4 documentary, the case remains open. By another strange parallel,of pieces of a vintage Swiss Luger PO6-29 found at the scene, and rumours al-Hilli was a British agent.

Martin Edwards said...

Absolutely right, Liz. That's an extraordinary case, for sure.

Trevor Smith said...

I'd never heard of this before, either. Odd that a book intended to give a new view of the murders should ignore details from the Guardian article.

Martin Edwards said...

Yes, Trevor, I was surprised.