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Tuesday 25 November 2014

‘The Peculiar Case of the Electronic Constable’ by Carol Baxter

Published by Oneworld Publications,
5 September 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-78074-243-4

The apprehending of Dr. Crippen through the sending of messages to alert the authorities of his presence on a ship to America in 1910 was not the first notable use of the electric telegraph to alert the authorities to the arrival of a potential criminal. This is a nonfiction work which deals with the story of Quaker John Tawell and a murder in 1845. The story begins in 1845 with the receiving of a message via the Electric Constable (as the telegraph was known) at Paddington Station from Slough which told of a murder just committed at Salt Hill and a suspect who had caught the train to London.

The investigation into the crime and the trial of the suspect is given very thorough coverage by Carol Baxter who looks at events in Australia as well as in England. There are lots of fascinating facts here, for example the ability of a convict to return from transportation a rich man and the establishment of a patent for and an active telegraph in London before Morse set up an American telegraph.

There are new developments in forensic pathology as doctors and scientists strive to find tests for poisons. What does not show any change is the perennial interest of the populace in murder trials from the crush of people attempting to enter the trial room to the enthusiasm to attend a hanging.

This story holds the reader's interest as the investigation and trial proceed.
The historical research required to find the material is impressive as the lengthy bibliography shows. This is indeed as the title page states 'a true tale of Passion, Poison and Pursuit.'
Reviewer: Jennifer S Palmer

Carol Baxter  is a prize-winning author of three popular histories, writing about previous investigations of real life crimes. She lives in Sydney.

Jennifer Palmer Throughout my reading life crime fiction has been a constant interest; I really enjoyed my 15 years as an expatriate in the Far East, the Netherlands & the USA but occasionally the solace of closing my door to the outside world and sitting reading was highly therapeutic. I now lecture to adults on historical topics including Famous Historical Mysteries.

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