Raymond Postgate, Verdict of Twelve, British Library, 2018
This book is among the outstanding reissues by the British Library and Poisoned Pen Press. Postgate’s name is probably more familiar from his founding the Good Food Guide, and/or his writing about wine, than his crime fiction, of which there wasn’t very much. His own tale takes us right back to conscientious objection during the Great War. Postgate was part of the generation who admired the Russian Revolution and were so terribly deceived by Stalin. His father was a ferocious Tory, who threw him out and told him not to darken his door again, so Raymond made his own way. That did include an Oxford education, which must have helped. Many of his cohort were Fabian socialists, including his sister, Margaret, who married G.D.H. Cole, with whom she wrote thirty crime novels. Verdict of Twelve was published in 1940 by Collins, with their strong line in crime fiction, including their Crime Club. This was an unrelentingly dark period in the war, worse perhaps than in 1943, by which time it was clear that the Nazis would be defeated, but not yet. If you didn’t know, you might have thought Postgate had something up his sleeve in his crime fiction, and you’d be right. Readers may be a little puzzled by the way a character appears, has his or her 15 minutes of fame, and then steps away from the limelight, but, really, that’s Postgate’s penchant for strong characterisations.
There is method there, in which Postgate gives us, efficiently and sympathetically, pictures of a number of ordinary citizens who will become members of a Jury of Twelve who will be responsible for the verdict in a murder trial, and whose participation has strong effects on their own lives, in part because the victim was a child. Not the least of his successes here are the ways that having to mix with people from all walks of life effects the jurors’ self-esteem, or makes them reflect in a there-but-for-the-grace-of-god manner. Unlike many crime novels of the period, this one contains more than one twist. Should you not be acquainted with H.H. Munro’s short stories, you might wish to read his Sredni Vashtar when you have finished Polegate’s book. It is quite short.
Verdict of Twelve by Raymond Postgate, Verdict of Twelve, British Library, 2018