Verdict of Twelve by Raymond Postgate

A woman is on trial for murder and a jury is being sworn in to decide her fate. A jury of twelve men and women selected at random from all walks of life, each of whom has an interesting story of his or her own. Verdict of Twelve (1940), one of the British Library Crime Classics series, is as much about the jury as it is about the crime, which makes it an unusual and fascinating novel.

The book is divided into three main sections. In the first, we are introduced to each member of the jury as they step forward one by one to take their oaths. With an academic, a religious fanatic, a servant, a Greek restaurant owner and an encyclopedia salesman among them, many areas of society are represented and these twelve very different people must find a way to work together to reach what they believe to be the correct verdict.

The second part of the novel (which begins about a third of the way into the book) describes the crime itself. We are given some background information on the accused woman and then an account of the events which led up to the murder. I don’t think I can go into any detail without spoiling things, so I will just say that it is an intriguing mystery, very dark at times but with some humour at others. Although there are only a few suspects it is difficult to decide from the available evidence (which is largely circumstantial) exactly what happened and whether the jurors’ verdict should be guilty or not guilty.

Next, we watch the trial take place, listen to the witnesses and then join the jurors as they discuss the case and try to reach agreement. Finally a short epilogue lets us know whether we – and the jury – came to the right conclusion. It’s an interesting structure and one which I thought worked very well. Knowing the personal background of each juror before the trial begins helps us to see how their individual prejudices and experiences affects their reasoning when it comes to considering the evidence and making a decision. Some find that they have sympathy for the accused and some for the victim; as the reader, I felt that I was almost in the position of a thirteenth juror – and as I disliked one of the characters so much I found that I was also reacting emotionally rather than objectively.

My only slight criticism is that the first section of the book, in which the jury is introduced, is quite uneven. A few of the characters, particularly Victoria Atkins and Arthur Popesgrove, are fully fleshed out in what are almost self-contained short stories, while some of the others have only one or two pages devoted to them. As each juror has one twelfth of the input into the final decision, I’m not sure why we needed to know so much more about some of their backgrounds than others. Apart from this, I really enjoyed Verdict of Twelve – highly recommended for all lovers of classic crime!

Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

This is book #6 for the R.I.P XII challenge.

18 thoughts on “Verdict of Twelve by Raymond Postgate

  1. Calmgrove says:

    Sounds intriguing from your review, thanks — may keep an eye out for this. Btw, is this Postgate related to the maker of short children’s animations for the BBC in the 60s? I ought to know, I realise that!

    • Helen says:

      Yes, he is. His son Oliver was the children’s television creator – and apparently also a cousin of Angela Lansbury, so quite an accomplished family!

      • Calmgrove says:

        Fascinating, these links! Like attracts like, as they say, and although these creative types often appear to be living in their own social bubble I’m grateful their output enriches our own engagement with the world.

  2. FictionFan says:

    I loved this one! I know what you mean about some of the jury just getting a couple of pages, but felt it migth have been too much if they were all developed as fully as the main ones. I loved the individual stories though – thought it gave a real insight into the society of the time as well as letting us see why they decided as they did in the jury room. These crime classics are addictive… 😀

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I think this would be a good one to start with – although I haven’t read many of them yet and a lot of the others sound very intriguing too!

    • Helen says:

      The trial is just one small part of this book – the focus is more on the crime itself and on the lives and personalities of the jurors. Definitely worth reading, in my opinion!

  3. piningforthewest says:

    I just skimmed your post as I really want to read the book soon-ish. I’ve found that these British Library Crime Classics can be a bit hit and miss, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy this one as you did.

  4. Jo says:

    I like the sound of this one, something about its structure appeals to me, rather than being the norm of a murder mystery/crime novel. Sometimes we need so,etching different to challenge the little grey cells!

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