Verdict of Twelve: Raymond Postgate (1940)

Raymond Postgate’s Verdict of Twelve is an excellent, unusual book from the British Library Crime Classics series. The plot centres on a murder trial, but in essence the book takes a subversive look at the justice system and questions the entire jury process.

On trial for murder is Rosalie van Beer, a money-grubbing, cruel unpleasant woman who married into money and after various deaths in the family, she took over the guardianship of the family heir, an orphaned boy. Before the trial begins, and before we know the details of the crime of which she’s accused, we are introduced to the jury. As you’d expect, these twelve people come from various walks of life, and each person brings their own belief system and emotional baggage to the trial.

verdict of Twelve

These days, potential jurors are asked various questions: have you ever been the victim of a violent crime, etc, and while the jurors in this trial aren’t asked those questions (the book was published in 1940), nonetheless the prejudices and beliefs these fictional jurors possess impact their judgement.

For example, one juror, Miss Victoria Atkins,  murdered a relative for financial gain years earlier. Although she was a suspect she slipped the noose, so while we readers know that this act is in the back of her mind, we understand that it will influence her decision. Will she be more less or lenient towards another woman who is accused of the same type of crime? Another juror, is a Greek immigrant with a shady past, while another juror was left a widow after her husband was beaten to death by a handful of anti-Semitic yobos. Adding to the mix, there’s also a Socialist/Communist (he can’t quite decide whether or not to join the Communist Party, a Conservative, an actor, a travelling salesman, and a religious nutcase.

While it’s perhaps pushing credulity to add a murderer to the jury of a murder trial, it’s easy to see that the other 11 people are the types you might expect to find facing the accused. The novel’s structure shows how each juror approaches the crime and applies their experience, prejudices, and belief system to the case. One juror dislikes animals and so sees a slice of testimony in a different light from the others, and yet another juror “had been patiently assembling as far as he could a Marxist interpretation of the evidence.” That said, the big question is: will justice prevail?

With only two women on the jury, it was interesting to see that they were harder on the accused (I read somewhere that this is true). The two women catch details about the accused that the men miss:

They saw a middle-aged woman, dressed in black, with a white collar. The women noticed that her nails were not coloured, but had nail polish on them. The hands were rather fattish and had not done housework for many years.

Verdict of Twelve offers an intriguing approach to a crime novel and has a phenomenal ending.

Note: animals do not fare well in this book.

review copy.

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15 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Postgate Raymond

15 responses to “Verdict of Twelve: Raymond Postgate (1940)

  1. Is this the one that was made into the film ‘Twelve Angry Men’?
    (I thought of that movie when I was on a jury once. An unforgettable – and not nice – experience).

  2. The book sounds very interesting….great review.

  3. Lisa has beaten me to it! I was just about to ask if it reminded you of the film 12 Angry Men, but you’ve answered that in your response above. It’s interesting to hear that the female jurors were harder on the accused than their male counterparts. That doesn’t surprise me given the era and the gender of the defendant…

  4. I’ve wondered if the film was inspired by the novel, even if its plot is somewhat different.
    This is one of my favourite books from the BL, so I’m glad you enjoyed it too. Do you think you’ll be reviewing the second Postgate novel the BL have released this month?

  5. tracybham

    Wow, this is approach / avoidance for me. The interesting women characters vs. animals not treated well. Very nice review.

  6. Up until the animal warning I thought this would be for me. I like court room movies and books. But now I’m not so sure.

  7. I have a copy of this which I’m itching to read – I love the idea of a murderer being on a jury even if it isn’t particularly credible – I’ve read somewhere that the women tend to be tougher than the men too…

  8. That’s a fascinating question, about the jurors’ baggage.
    I love the book cover.

  9. Sounds interesting, but it’s not a genre that excites me that much (save the movie 12 Angry Men which everyone else mentions and which to be fair is brilliant) and the animal cruelty therefore tips it over the edge to a no for me. Nice review though.

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