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Conan Doyle for the Defense: The True Story of a Sensational British Murder, a Quest for Justice, and the World's Most Famous Detective Writer
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Conan Doyle for the Defense: The True Story of a Sensational British Murder, a Quest for Justice, and the World's Most Famous Detective Writer

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  1,676 ratings  ·  353 reviews
In this thrilling true-crime procedural, the creator of Sherlock Holmes uses his unparalleled detective skills to exonerate a German Jew wrongly convicted of murder.

One of USA Today's "Five new books you won't want to miss!"

"Gripping . . . The book works on two levels, much like a good Holmes case."--Time

For all the scores of biographies of Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published June 26th 2018 by Random House
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Average rating 3.70  · 
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 ·  1,676 ratings  ·  353 reviews

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Start your review of Conan Doyle for the Defense: The True Story of a Sensational British Murder, a Quest for Justice, and the World's Most Famous Detective Writer
Sean Gibson
Jul 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Margalit Fox is a witch.

I don’t mean to suggest that she dances naked in the moonlight with the coven, though I’ve never met the woman, so I can’t opine definitively vis-à-vis her nocturnal pursuits. Rather, I can conceive of nothing short of sorcery to explain how someone could so deftly craft a narrative that appeals so strongly to my oddly compulsive interests as they pertain to Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, Victorian history, culture, and society, unsolved mysteries, facial hair, and
Arthur Conan Doyle takes on the mantle of his own fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, in the true crime case of an innocent man, German Jew Oscar Slater, convicted of the murder of the rich, elderly, unlikeable 82 year old woman, Marion Gilchrist in 1908, in Glasgow. Margalit Fox gives us a dense study of the true crime with her impeccable research, concentrating on giving us a social and political commentary of the era that allowed such a damning miscarriage of justice to take place. It is a ...more
May 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Arthur Conan Doyle is, of course, best known for writing Sherlock Holmes, but he was also a man of many interests. By the time of the events of this book, Conan Doyle was well known as a crusader for justice; although he was also somewhat derided for his passion for Spiritualism. However, if you are reading this book solely for your interest in Conan Doyle, then please be aware that this is largely about the historical true crime case, which occurred in Glasgow, 1908, and the events which follow ...more
Nancy Oakes
I think a 3.7 is about right for this book. It's interesting for sure, but there's a lot here that could have been bypassed to make it flow better and give it more strength.

In 1908, 82 year-old Marion Gilchrist of Glasgow was severely beaten to death in her flat. All that was missing was a crescent-shaped diamond brooch, and police sent out a warning to the "Pawns" to be on the lookout. Four days later, a bicycle dealer revealed to the police that he knew a man who'd been trying to sell a pawn
Jon Recluse
Glasgow, Scotland: 1908
A wealthy, and extremely paranoid elderly woman is brutally murdered in her home. Clues that would prove to even the untrained to be blatantly false lead the police to a suspect, Oscar Slater - immigrant German Jew with a shady reputation. Slater finds himself imprisoned for a life of hard labor in one of Scotland's worst prisons...barely escaping hanging for the crime. After 18 and a half years, and close to suicidal, Slater manages to get a cry for help Sir Art
The Lit Bitch
Oct 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
If you are like me, you probably only think of Sherlock Holmes when you hear the name Arthur Conan Doyle. I had no idea that he was like a real life Sherlock as well!

When this book came across my desk for review I was immediately intrigued because the more I thought about it, I knew basically nothing about the man who created the world most famous detective.

It actually makes sense that Conan Doyle was a real life detective, he obviously wrote with such authority on the subject that it’s embarras
Rick Mitchell
Aug 16, 2018 rated it it was ok
This would have made a great magazine article. Unfortunately, it was stretched to book length with irrelevant background and redundancy. Frankly, it only got good just after the halfway point. I would estimate that in the first 100 pages, only a dozen were actually about the "sensational British murder". The author also seemed to have an agenda of promoting a negative view of Victorian attitudes that got tiresome.

Having said all that, the background on Conan Doyle and the small bits on the actua
Jan 11, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019, europe
I think this would really appeal to Conan Doyle fans overall. It was fairly interesting as it covered not only Conan Doyle, his activism, & his writing of Sherlock Holmes, but the general state of investigative police work in the early 1900s. (Sadly, there still seem to be some parallels to today where "the other" -- whether race or religion or some other demarcation -- gets railroaded or charged even when innocent.) If you're more interested in the story related to the particular murder itself, ...more
May 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was chock full of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle information. The Sherlock Holme's author was a true "gentleman". He had his principles and he stuck to them. I loved this book --if you are a Sherlock Holmes and true crime fan this book was written for you. It details the horrifying injustice done to Oscar Slater when he is wrongly found guilty of murdering a wealthy older woman he never even had heard of. ACD (along with a few others)helps to get Oscar out of his torturous prison cell in Peter ...more
Oct 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fans of Sherlock Holmes, the canon isn't quite closed yet... here's a peek into the actual Sherlock who walked on this earth, and not just the one scrawled onto the page. The man behind the world's most famous fictional detective was, in fact, a detective too...

“...when it came to solving real-life mysteries, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had done this sort of thing before.”

This book – oh, so good! Here we're reading non-fiction, of course, but Fox's storywriting abilities make it come alive, to wh
Jul 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, true-crime
“...however improbable, must be the truth...”

In 1908, an elderly lady, Miss Gilchrist, was bludgeoned to death in her Glasgow home and a brooch was stolen. Shortly afterwards, Oscar Slater pawned a brooch and boarded a ship bound for America. These two facts were enough for the police to decide that he was the guilty man and, sure enough, they arrested and charged him, and he was convicted and condemned to death – a sentence that was swiftly commuted to life imprisonment in response to a growing
Aug 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
3.75 stars

As a former obituaries writer for the New York Times, Margalit Fox has spent a great deal of time writing about death. (Her obit on the inventor of the plastic lawn flamingo is well worth the read and linked below.) While framed as a biography of Conan Doyle, this book really covers three separate but interrelated subjects: the great man himself, the unsolved murder of a wealthy spinster in Victorian Scotland, and the life of Oscar Slater, a German Jew who was falsely accused of the c
Mar 13, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
'Conan Doyle for the Defence' by Margalit Fox relates the tale of a clear miscarriage of justice. Oscar Slater, a Jewish immigrant, was convicted of the murder of Marion Gilchrist, a wealthy 82 year old spinster, who was found bludgeoned to death in her Glasgow home on 21 December 1908.

An objective review of the evidence clearly demonstrates Oscar Slater’s innocence however, as Margalit Fox explains, ineffectual police techniques, police corruption, racial prejudice, and class stereotypes, all c
Jun 07, 2020 rated it liked it
Bottom line first: Margalit Fox’s: Conan Doyle for the Defense: How Sherlock Holmes's Creator Turned Real-Life Detective and Freed a Man Wrongly Imprisoned for Murder could have been a better book. The story is compelling and cautionary. Dolye’s biography and the story of his mentor is interesting. The writer’s skill is not up to the task. It frequently feels padded. It is not emotionless but neither does it build toward the already announced release.

Once upon a time (1903) in a land far away,
Mar 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
There is more in this book about the philosophies and techniques of the Victorian era’s criminal justice system than there is about Doyle’s efforts to clear Slater. With the clarity of hindsight, she criticizes or applauds each move made by all the players. It was interesting, but not quite what I was expecting. We do get some about Doyle. Throughout were interspersed snippets about his public and private life. There were also interesting parallels drawn between the techniques Doyle used to clea ...more
Jan 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
An interesting book for both Sherlock Holmes and true crime fans alike, this is a case that will leave you scratching your head and shaking your fist. Oscar Slater, who can be termed the Scottish Dreyfus, was a German Jew who was clearly railroaded in a Victorian murder case that captivated the masses, and led to unwarranted fears of the "other". In steps Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who had a real-life interest in crime cases, and was able to utilize Holmes' inductive reasoning to dismantle shaky ev ...more
Literary Redhead
Who knew the creator of Sherlock Holmes once used his famous sleuth’s skills to solve a real crime ... and helped free a man wrongfully convicted of murder? That’s the focus of Margalit Fox’s new meticulously researched and wonderfully written book. As thrilling as any fictive adventure of the Great Detective himself. Highly recommended!

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for the ARC. Opinions are my own.

#ConanDoyleForTheDefense #NetGalley
Oct 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book was so interesting! I really enjoyed the style it was written in, and the author makes the case very clearly. There was a lot of background on all the important figures, from Conan Doyle's earlier sleuthing to Slater's family back home. It gave the book more of a sense of continuity and reality. It wasn't just a clever story an author came up with, it was a real miscarriage of justice that hurt real people. Of course I'd have liked to find out who the real murderer was, but more than a ...more
Robin Stevens
Dec 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A clear account of a fascinating miscarriage of justice, and the role of Arthur Conan Doyle in its resolution. (14+)

*Please note: this review is meant as a recommendation only. If you use it in any marketing material, online or anywhere on a published book without asking permission from me first, I will ask you to remove that use immediately. Thank you!*
Aug 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
The dramatic title and the true crime billing do this book somewhat of an injustice. Margalit Fox isn't writing in the traditional true crime genre, not being particularly interested in solving the 1908 murder of the elderly Scottish spinster Marion Gilchrist. (Indeed, while a brutal crime, Gilchrist's murder is perhaps just as horrifying in its banality—were it not for Arthur Conan Doyle's later involvement, her name would long since be forgotten.)

Fox is far more interested in exploring what t
Katherine Addison
Aug 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book was well-written and enjoyable, but I came away feeling like I hadn't gained anything in my knowledge of the Oscar Slater case. Mostly, this is because I've read Roughead, but Fox doesn't bring anything new to the table except a focus on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and even there, I didn't find much beyond a brief biography and some (mis)quoting of Holmes.

My primary takeaway from this book is that I want to read Conan Doyle's true crime writing.

Three stars? Four stars? I'll go with four, b
May 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-truecrime
Fill in the blank:

Sherlock Holmes uses extraordinary powers of _______________ to solve crimes.

Answer: “deduction”, amirite?

Apparently not. He uses “abduction” (Kindle location 1215).

Abduction? Really? He kidnaps people? That can’t be right.

I understand that Sherlock, if he decided to kidnap someone, would undoubtedly have extraordinary powers, what with being so brainy and all, but abduction, as the average hairpin understands the word, is definitely not in the canon.

As it turns out, we have a
Schuyler Wallace
May 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing

Margalit Fox is mainly noted as a linguist, serving on many usage panels and boards for language usage handbooks. She also had a long career as writer of obituaries for the New York Times. But wait a minute. She didn’t just hack out death notices. Her tributes to the lives of celebrities and notables were classics. Her work was submitted twice for Pulitzer Prizes.

“Conan Doyle for the Defense” is her third book and has prompted her retirement from the newspaper to concentrate on her book writing
Deb Jones
Aug 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
This factual account of a man who was arrested and nearly hanged for a murder he did not commit could have been written in modern times except for the fact that forensic science had not yet been introduced. However, society's prejudices lead then to a shoddy police investigation and subsequent prosecution -- something that remains prevalent in modern society. ...more
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This really needs to be made into a tv show!
If you're like me and love reading fictional murder mysteries or true crime books, this is a must read as it offers both a fascinating plot and lots of little insights that I haven't read before.
I've read a lot of Conan-Doyle, Agatha Christie and Robin Stevens books and I now have a new author to read.
Thanks to netgalley for the chance to read this.
Wealthy Glaswegian spinster Marion Gilchrist was murdered in her home, bludgeoned to death and an expensive brooch stolen. German Jew Oscar Slater was arrested and imprisoned for the crime, despite evidence proving he was innocent. When a fellow prisoner was released, Slater got him to smuggle out a message to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes and an amateur detective himself. This was a rather interesting look at Conan Doyle's greatest creation, Scottish attitudes towards the ' ...more
Rod Innis
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
A well-written book about an actual event in the life of Arthur Conan Doyle the author of many books about the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the Sherlock Holmes stories ( I have read most of them several times) So this book intrigued me as it gave quite a lot of insight into the author of some of my favourite stories.
I won't provide any spoilers but if you enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes stories you more than likely will enjoy this book.
Jun 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a fascinating book. It delivers a true crime “mystery “ solved by the great Conan Doyle (creator of the famous Sherlock Holmes) presented within the social context of Victorian England. I enjoyed this very much - it was engrossing and certainly well-written.
My thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an arc in exchange for my honest review.
Jun 16, 2018 rated it liked it
An interesting read. While I originally expected more information about Conan Doyle, I did not find myself very disappointed by the lack of said expectations being met. A lot of information about the case, the time period, Doyle, and society was encompassed in the pages of this work. I would recommend this to anyone interested in true crime, sociology, turn of the century studies, and readers of Conon Doyle
Kathy Cunningham
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Margalit Fox’s CONAN DOYLE FOR THE DEFENSE is a fascinating look at the social and political world of late Victorian England. The book focuses on Arthur Conan Doyle’s efforts to free a man wrongfully imprisoned for a murder he did not commit. But what’s most interesting is the justice system in the early 1900’s, and how fraught it was with prejudice, especially anti-Semitism, class warfare, and distrust of foreigners. Sound familiar? Yes, it does.

In 1908, a wealthy, elderly woman was brutally m
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Margalit Fox originally trained as a cellist and a linguist before pursuing journalism. As a senior writer in The New York Times's celebrated Obituary News Department, she wrote the front-page public sendoffs of some of the leading cultural figures of our age. Winner of the William Saroyan Prize for Literature and author of three previous books, "Conan Doyle for the Defense," "The Riddle of the La ...more

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