A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment by John Preston

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A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment by John Preston

Category: True Crime
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An eloquent telling of one of the greatest political scandals of the twentieth century. Excellent research with characters which must have been a dream to write about. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352/10h14m Date: May 2016
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 978-0241215722

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Jeremy Thorpe was the sort of person who was generally liked by others. He was flamboyant and gregarious but could give the impression that meeting someone had made his day. He never seemed to forget a name and he was witty, charismatic and very charming. He appeared to be a decent man, with views with which I would have agreed on race, capital punishment and membership of the Common Market, as the European Union was then known. For this was the nineteen sixties and Thorpe had entered Parliament at the age of thirty and by 1967 he would be party leader. On the surface he was a man who had everything going for him.

But there was another Jeremy Thorpe, unseen by the majority of people. This one was a repressed homosexual (at the time homosexuality was still illegal) who was incapable of taking responsibility for his own actions and who expected others to step in and clear up any mess he created, no matter what the cost - or risk - to themselves. He was also deeply mired in intrigue and involved in a conspiracy to murder. Thorpe chanced to meet Norman Josiffe (later he would become Norman Scott) in 1960 and the two began a homosexual relationship. After the affair was over Scott, a pathetic young man with the ability to make people feel sorry for him, remained a thorn in Thorpe's side because of his ability to make public letters which Thorpe had sent him. In desperation Thorpe considered murdering Scott - or rather getting someone else to do so. The scenes when Thorpe discusses how this is to be achieved are pure black comedy, but it would have a dreadful outcome when, in 1975, a lone gunman shot Scott's dog and seemed only to not kill Scott because his gun jammed.

Thorpe was charged with three others with conspiracy to murder and on his own with incitement to murder. The trial would make legal history for all the wrong reasons when the judge made clear his sympathies in his summing up and didn't quite instruct the jury to 'go and consider your not guilty verdict', but might as well have done. Thorpe was acquitted but his reputation never recovered.

Much of the story was obviously in the public domain but John Preston has gone further than other books in unearthing new sources and there's no part of the story which seems weak as you read. It's also not a story which could have been told in its entirety before Thorpe's death in 2014: it will, though, be difficult to better. The research has been impeccable and the writing eloquent. I've read less-compelling thrillers.

As well as reading the book I listened to an audio download (which I bought myself) narrated by Daniel Weyman. It's an impressive recording. Weyman has the right level of gravitas for the situation but dealt well with those parts of what happened which descended into farce. He's not a narrator whom I've encountered before, but I'd be delighted to listen to more from him.

Jeremy Thorpe was defended in court by George Carman QC: his son wrote his biography although it does concentrate more on celebrity gossip than analysis of his cases. Lord Donoughue, Bernard Donoughue as he then was, gave Thorpe good advice: we were impressed by his diaries.

Buy A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment by John Preston at Amazon You could get a free audio download of A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment by John Preston with a 30-day Audible free trial at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment by John Preston at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment by John Preston at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment by John Preston at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment by John Preston at Amazon.com.


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Peter said:

If someone had written this as a fictional account it would not be believed - but it was all true. The book was well researched and a highly entertaining account of the events leading up to the trial of Jeremy Thorpe and of the trial itself.