“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary their social existence determines their consciousness” Marx
Raymond Postgate’s Verdict of Twelve is a fascinating and absorbing variant of the crime novel.
Published in 1940, and with the concerns of the times embedded – anti-Semitism within society, an entrenched class system, the effects of culture, economics, politics upon the lives and outlooks of individuals – this is courtroom drama
A crime, one which will lead to the death penalty if the accused is found guilty, has been committed.
The reader is not directly introduced to the crime itself, initially. Rather, we meet the jury. And are given insights into the backgrounds of each of them, which allows Postgate, a pacifist, socialist, journalist, and a founding member of the British Communist Party, to present differing internal narratives, to show across class and gender, how the lives of individuals have been shaped by personal events, but also, far wider, by politics, culture, and the structure of capitalist society.
Once any group, no matter what, is separated by a general suspicion or merely a general belief from the rest of society, it is by that mere fact made different, and develops at once marked characteristics of its own
So this becomes a very interesting and well written crime novel. Whilst a lot of the Golden Age writers of the 30s were writing about crime committed by, and within, the privileged classes, Postgate is doing something very different. This is not just an entertainment (though it is a very well structured and entertaining read in the genre) It is educative.
After meeting the jurors, the case itself (a complex one, though the list of suspects is small, and the reader might, from their own sympathies, have clear ideas of who-dunnit not to mention why-dunnit.
Having met the jurors, and received a view which shows us that subjective judgements will play a very large part in the ‘Guilty/Not Guilty’ decision, judgements moulded by character, which is moulded by external factors as much as internal factors, we might be also being drawn into what our own decisions might be, as to the innocence or guilt of the person on trial.
Like most men of past middle-age he habitually faintly disliked or distrusted handsome men, especially dark handsome men, If there was any excuse he would classify them as shiny or foreign looking
The book ends with a wonderful rug-pull, to topple the reader.
I received this as a well-done digital ARC. It is part of the British Library Crime Classics series, a marvellous treasure trove for those preferring less detailed spatter of blood, gore and other bodily fluids which much modern crime writing seems to dwell on, somewhat gratuitously.
Series editor Martin Edwards provides an interesting Introduction, which I read, as is my wont, after reading the book. And was pleasantly surprised to discover that it had contained no spoilers. Instead, it was an account of Postgate himself, in the context of his own life and placing this book within the genre of other crime writing.
And once again, I’m indebted to FictionFan for bringing this to my attention, after I read her excellent review, back when the leaves were still turning gold upon the trees, autumn in full glory, and the need for thermals not even given houseroom!