If you are easily offended, then don’t be. The title of this months second book review Bastard Verdict by James McCrone and self published in April 2023. Refers to an usual aspect of the Scottish legal system, where the jury can deliver
one of three verdicts: guilty; not guilty; or not proven. This is something I’d not come across before,
but a brief internet search brought up an excellent piece on the History Workshop website by Valerie
Wallace and Tommy Boyd ( http://www.historyworkshop.org.uk/law-crime-rights/not-proven-and-building-a-better-britain/ ) . Not proven is given when the jury feels it cannot find the defendant
guilty or innocent based on the evidence proffered. The not proven verdict is seen as an acquittal in
the same way as not guilty, This change began in the 17 th century when juries were able to return
‘special’ verdicts on whether factual evidence had been proven or not and refer the verdict to the
judge to decide. Now the term is taken to mean that there was a failure to prove guilt rather than
facts. The Phrase ‘Bastard verdict’ was first used by Walter Scott in relation to the murder case
against Madaleine Smith, who was accused of poisoning her lover. However, despite widespread
public opinion of her guilt, the jury felt that the evidence was mainly circumstantial and returned a
verdict of not proven.
James McCrone’s book is bang up to date in the post Brexit era. A second referendum into Scottish
Independence looms and elections specialist Imogen Trader is asked to look into the 2014
referendum. She uncovers a trail of criminal self-dealing, cover-ups, and murder. None but a very
few know the truth. And those few need it to stay hidden at all costs.
This is the third book featuring FBI agent Imogen Trader, but the first I’ve had the pleasure of
reading. Initially I found the book to be quite dense with a host of characters being introduced the
story as well as detailed facts and figures regarding the politics and logistics of running the first
referendum. Personally, I found it a little dry but then realised that the background information was
necessary for understanding the complexities of the plot and keeping up with the twists and turns
later on. I’m sure the plot and the information would be a conspiracy theorists dream.
Imogen Trader is an interesting and well drawn heroine, and while her past was referenced where is
affected her current decisions and actions, this book worked well as a standalone novel. Generally,
the characters were all believable and you got a real sense of menace from the ‘bad ‘guys. My
favourite character was Alan Wilson, the engaging criminal with gang links. I felt I’d enjoy reading
another novel based on his exploits.
This is American author James McCrone’s fourth book ( http://www.jamesmccrone.com ), the others are Faithless Elector ( 2016 ), Dark Network ( 2017), and Emergency Powers ( 2020). His short stories have appeared Rock and a Hard Place; Retreats From Oblivion, and an anthology of short stories Low Down Dirty Vote, Vol.2 & 3. He lives in South Philadelphia with his wife and kids.
This novel reminded me of books I’ve read by Dan Browne and Robbert Goddard. Similarly, these
have individuals embroiled in shady dealings with criminal and other organisations, whilst trying to
save the day (or the world). In these books too, the heroine is always beautiful and accomplished,
which sometimes prompts an eyeroll. Most women, I think, prefer our heroines with few flaws.
I enjoyed this book, despite the slow start. Once the story got going it was a real adrenaline rush and
I couldn’t wait to see how everything worked out.
So, the verdict of this juror is definitely guilty: of creating an intriguing and topical thriller.
Reviewed by Georgina Murphy
This book review is part of a Random Things blog tour, to see what the other reviewers thought, visit their blogs listed below. Then, if you get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.