16 October 2006 | theowinthrop
Mr. House's small but firm output.
I cannot write too much about this series in terms of it's actual productions (as I've never seen it, unfortunately). But I am acquainted with his two chief books that he is recalled for: "Square Mile Of Murder" (the source of this series) and "Murder Not Proved?". Both of these books on criminal history detail cases from House's native Scotland (which has had some of the more interesting homicides of the last four hundred years.
"Murder Not Proved?" has a punning title. In Scotland criminal cases there are three possible verdicts: innocent, guilty, and "not proved". The third is when the jury, in analyzing the evidence, concludes it is insufficient to support the Government's case against the defendant, but is too strong to ignore or override by saying that the defendant could not have done the crime. In Scotland Madeleine Smith is the best known defendant who benefited by that verdict. However, her story was told in "Square Mile Of Murder". In "Murder Not Proved?" only one case (the Ardlamont Mystery of 1894) led to a similar legal verdict for the defendant, Mr. Alfred Monson - a seedy businessman who may have shot one Cecil Hambrough for insurance money in a "hunting accident". The other three cases here were not "Not Proved" in terms of verdicts. In fact, in two of the cases the defendant received a definitive verdict (guilty for John Watson Laurie, and not guilty for John Donald Merritt). But in those cases House questions if those two verdicts were correct (Laurie may have been a thief, but may not have murdered an English traveler; Merritt probably did shoot his mother in 1926 - nearly three decades later he killed his wife and mother in law in a murder for gain, and ended up committing suicide when facing arrest). The fourth case was regarding a murder in a cabin that occurred in 1913, that never got beyond a stymied police investigation.
This series is based on "Square Mile Of Murder". It has essays on Madeleine Smith, Dr. Edward Pritchard, Jessie Maclachlan, and Oscar Slater. All four cases occurred in a square mile of the center of the city of Glasgow between 1857 and 1908. Smith's case is very well known - and was the subject of David Lean's movie "Madeline" (1950) with Ann Todd as the defendant. Dr. Pritchard's case was the subject of a half-hour program starring Joseph Cotton as the Doctor (and Henry Daniell as his lawyer) on a 1950s program called "On Trial". Oscar Slater's case lasted from the murder of his supposed victim in 1908, and his final release from prison in 1928, and is remembered because of the involvement of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the freeing of Slater. The Maclachlan Case of 1862 is rather unique, as it dealt with whether a poor servant woman killed her co-worker and friend in the house they worked in, or if the elderly father of the house owner was the guilty party. The servant was arrested, and the authorities seemed determined to prove her guilty and never questioned her employer (who was chief witness against her!).
House was a crime reporter, and he wrote very little under his own name in the form of books. But what he wrote was first rate. If the production values of this series was as good as the original essay-chapters of House's "Square Mile Of Murder" book, it was a first rate entertainment.