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William Roughead's 'Chronicles of Murder.'(Brief Article)

William Roughead's |Chronicles of Murder'. Richard Whittington-Egan. Lochar Publishing. 17.99 [pounds].

Richard Whittingto-Egan's meticulous account of the life and work of Williams Roughead (1850 to 1952) shows its subject as a writer who in outlook, character and gifts was conditioned by lifelong residence and a substantial legal practice in his native city of Edinburgh. His passion for the true chronicling of murder was equalled only by his love of the Elizabeth and Jacobean dramaticals whose poetry of violence is unparalled in literature. The murder cases tried in Edinburgh during his lifetime include many of the most notorious in British legal history because Edinburgh then contained many of the most able judges and advacates in the land.

Roughead was himself a skilful lawyer but it is on his chronicles of murder cases that his fame, throughout the English speaking world, rests. These included that of Eugene Marie Chantrelle, the Edinburgh Wife Killer; of The Brides in the Bath; of Dr. William Palmer, the Rugeley Poisoner and about two hundred more. Whittington-Egan points out in his biographical introduction that the hallmark of the chronicles is the rich, wide-ranging intelligence Roughead brings to bear on proven evidences of human error and wrong-doing, not censoriously but truthfully. His records describe every significant trial for murder held in the Edinburgh High Court of the Judiciary between 1889 and 1949. Known as |thw murderer's albatross' for his unfailing presence in court, he thought of himself as a |teller of tales', never a criminologist. As a Writer to the Signet he became absorbed in individual life stories and the conditions lying behind crime. |What appealed to me', he wrote, |was the human element, the dramatic quality of the facts', and he aimed above all at combining accuracy with |readableness'. How well he succeeded, both as editor of the Notable Britishk Trials series and as legal essayist in journals, is amply demonstrated here.

The book is workmanlike and satisfying informative, almost one third of it, |The Murderer's Albatross', being composed of a descriptive of Roughead's life, pursuits and far reaching contacts. His essay entitled |Enjoyment of Murder: a Criminous Reverie', written for the 1938 publication in America of a selection of his tales, introduces two further sections of the book -- |Murder File' and |Fact File' -- in which by phenomenally careful research the author has collated, amplified and cross-referenced all available information about trials, murder and the extraneous circumstances relating to those crimes alluded to in his biographical chapter. By means of an original method of marginal indexing these histories may easily be followed through. M stands for Murder File, F for Fact File: M1 and F1 together providde both case facts and biographical notes. The initial narrative may therefore be read, extraordinary story that it is, without interruption. A bibliograph of Roughead's Chronicles and Essays is finally appended. It includes the dates and places of first and subsequent publication. The author of this book has written a scholarly history of the work of a renowned legal historian--the first comprehensive account--in a style worthy of William Roughead's own exacting standards.

Betty Abel
COPYRIGHT 1992 Contemporary Review Company Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Abel, Betty
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1992
Words:514
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