A cricket bat, a mur­der and a quirky jury

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL - By Michael Robert­son Mino­taur, $24.99, 272 pages By Muriel Dob­bin Muriel Dob­bin is a for­mer White House and na­tional po­lit­i­cal re­porter for McClatchy news­pa­pers and the Bal­ti­more Sun.

It isn’t just the mur­der which cap­tures your at­ten­tion in this so­phis­ti­cated romp of a mys­tery. It’s the weapon. Why? Be­cause it’s a cricket bat owned by a man con­sid­ered Eng­land’s great­est crick­eter.

The charge that he used the pre­cious bat to beat his wife to death up­sets the in­ves­ti­gat­ing de­tec­tives more than his crime. Chief In­spec­tor Wem­b­ley of Scot­land Yard doesn’t want to look at the blood­stained bat be­cause “his heart was break­ing” at the thought that Liam McSweeney was not only guilty but would not play again for Eng­land.

It seems ap­pro­pri­ate that a sum­mons to jury duty at the Old Bai­ley for the McSweeney trail is de­liv­ered to the Baker Street ad­dress of the leg­endary de­tec­tive Sher­lock Holmes. He is of course no longer in res­i­dence but other le­gal minds are.

This is a de­lec­ta­ble mys­tery el­e­gantly writ­ten and peo­pled by char­ac­ters who are eru­dite and witty and fun. Michael Robert­son has done a splen­did job of set­ting his stage and pop­u­lat­ing it, and if all of this isn’t enough there is added pi­quancy in a slice of Sher­lock Holmes. And there is prob­a­bly no more fas­ci­nat­ing sce­nario for a dra­matic case than a fa­mous court and the ju­ries who play a riv­et­ing role in the the­ater of crime.

What makes this trim lit­tle book es­pe­cially en­gag­ing is the un­ex­pect­ed­ness of its de­vel­op­ments. There is a re­mark­able rap­port be­tween the judge and his ju­rors that he on one oc­ca­sion com­pares to herd­ing cats. It isn’t the kind of jury you would ex­pect to be picked at random. There is an al­ter­nate ju­ror who keeps in­ter­rupt­ing and who turns out to be a street busker who found his sum­mons in the street. There is Lucy the charm­ing young woman who has two tat­toos that turn out to be tied to cricket . They fas­ci­nate Nigel Heath, a so­lic­i­tor who passes for a ver­sion of Sher­lock Holmes when he isn’t try­ing to fig­ure out the flow­ers that can barely be seen on Lucy’s rump. When the jury moves out of the court­house to a re­mote beach house owned by the great crick­eter McSweeney the ca­su­alty rate goes up. One ju­ror has al­ready died from the pasta in the court­house can­teen and two more are des­tined to die as the judge goes to re­mark­able lengths to iden­tify who is telling the truth and about what.

The sur­prises go on and on, sur­pris­ing even the judge who thinks he has seen ev­ery­thing when it comes to ju­ries. About whom he has strong feel­ings. This is a judge who loves ju­ries and wants them to be let alone, free of roundthe-clock tele­vi­sion and non­stop phone cov­er­age. He is aware that ev­ery tabloid in the coun­try is ex­press­ing out­rage that he has not granted an early de­fense mo­tion to dis­miss the charges against McSweeney the fa­mous crick­eter be­cause he claimed an al­ibi.. The pur­pose of a jury was to be just, no more than that, the judge re­flects, although he has suf­fered from the pub­lic out­rage over his fail­ing to pla­cate the pub­lic. He thought the jury should be left alone.

In the McSweeney case what the jury goes through in the course of its de­lib­er­a­tions is what few ju­ries ever go through and it makes mar­velous read­ing. They face po­ten­tial death by drown­ing as they seek to as­cer­tain where a wit­ness saw McSweeney in roar­ing surf. One is found with an axe in his head that can­not be at­trib­uted to nat­u­ral causes. And most de­light­ful is the de­noue­ment to the whole con­fec­tion. The last sen­tence is prac­ti­cally worth the whole book and the reader will be glad to have waited for it.

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