Scotland Yard’s First Cases

Written by Joan Lock
Review by Martin Bourne

Joan Lock has written several books on the British police. This title describes the most significant cases handled by Scotland Yard’s detective branch from 1836 to the start of the 20th century. Promisingly, this is ground that has not been much covered.

Unfortunately it’s all rather disjointed. This is partly due to paucity of detail – most of the information is culled from newspaper clippings and hand-written police reports – but mostly because it’s not put into context. The actual basics of how Scotland Yard was organised and manned are never explained, so the stories exist in a vacuum.

Another problem is that the “whodunit” is one genre where truth is rarely stranger than fiction. Descriptions of the real thing don’t stand up well in comparison to the exploits of the many fictional sleuths to whom we are regularly exposed. The main difficulties faced by the early detectives were limited jurisdiction, lack of forensics and poor communications, as opposed to actually discovering the identity of the perpetrator. Most of the enquiries detailed in this book are pretty much open and shut cases and therefore difficult to get excited about.