Compelling true crime stories
True crime books are often racy, but speculative, accounts of the workings of a psychopath’s mind. Wendy Joseph’s book is not like that. As a former judge at the Old Bailey, she takes us behind the scenes at her trials. We learn not just about the roles of court officials, but the judges’ daily tea and their pecking order for chocolate biscuits. The book is laced with humour alongside the pathos of shattered lives.
As well as explaining how each story unfolds, Ms Joseph gives us a hint of what happens next. The cases include a stabbing, dangerous driving, child cruelty and a Mr Big dying at the hands of his battered wife. In the latter, the jury appear to decide that the widow has carried out a public service.
Each crime affects not just the victim and defendant, but their families. It is impossible to feel unmoved at the anxious parents awaiting the fate of their child in the dock, or hearing that a much-loved son belonged to a gang. A crime creates ripples throughout the community, and the trial is a but a small part of that.
Obliged to sentence in accordance with strict guidelines, Ms Joseph suggests we are storing up problems for society’s future. By the time prisoners regain their freedom after a long sentence, they are likely to be institutionalised and brutalised. How can we expect that to end well? She makes a plea for more work on rehabilitation and crime prevention.
Ms Joseph also takes us back to the scene of each crime, with well-written and emotional vignettes. It is impossible to finish the book without shedding a few tears.
A fork in the road
The book begins with a school party visiting the court. The children, clearly engaged, act out a courtroom drama with enthusiasm. One of them might even be persuaded to follow in Ms Joseph’s footsteps. Schools outreach is possibly even more important than the ear of politicians. As long as Ms Joseph and her colleagues can convince young people to stay on the right side of the law, there is hope.
Do you love a well-written crime story? My latest psychological thriller, “Lies at Her Door” combines an old mystery with modern family drama.
A murder she can’t remember. A cop convinced she’s a killer. Her battle for freedom just became a fight for her life…