It is 1843, a time of intense agitation about the Corn Laws. Sir Robert Peel’s Private Secretary is shot and dies and a Scot, Daniel McNaughten, is charged and tried. His defence leads to the drafting of the McNaughten rules on guilt and insanity. The author has researched the subject intensively and provides convincing detail of London life. She follows the initial shooting, investigation and trial and includes the early life of McNaughten.
Busby’s non-fiction is well regarded but, though this is a clever pastiche, as a novel it did not work for me. I rarely give up on novels but this time was tempted; for several reasons. There are so many characters of equal importance yet there were none to empathise with. The punctuation, copious and often seemingly random use of dashes, ellipses, italics and parentheses is so obtrusive it distracts from rather than illuminate the sense. The narration, in a number of third person viewpoints, incorporating different voices, using dialect and phonetics, draws attention to the style rather than the content and, incidentally refutes the cover suggestion of it being written by one of the characters.
If you enjoy detailed discussions about obscure arguments for and against the Corn Laws you will appreciate this book. For my taste there was rather too much detail which was irrelevant to the plot.