Friday, September 9, 2016
FFB: Let Him Have Judgment - Bruce Hamilton
THE CHARACTERS: I'd rather skip this section because so much depends upon masquerade, impersonation, and double identities. The appeal of this story is that it's another one of those in which the less you know the more you will enjoy it. Let's just jump ahead to what makes this book such a unique example of crime fiction--
INNOVATIONS: The book has a brilliant construction that could only be accepted by someone who admires crime fiction plotting. There is a Prologue which is sort of a mini tale in itself, but lays the groundwork for Hamilton's purpose in writing the book. Let Him Have Judgment (1948) is clearly meant to serve as an indictment against the vagaries of the law and how criminal justice is often left in the hands of those who seek retribution. The reader learns of the fate of Harry Gosling who apparently was wrongly sentenced for a murder he never committed. On the eve of his execution he pleads with the reverend who is sent to his cell to give him solace. The two conspire to break basic rules about written communication posted from the prison. Harry writes a letter and has the minister vow that he will take the letter, not read it, and conceal it another letter written by the reverend himself. Then the reverend is to send both letters to an address in America. The prologue fades out as Harry is led to the gallows.
The real ingenuity of the story comes in the triple twist of the Epilogue when all the mysteries of identity, wrongful accusations, and seemingly unjust verdicts are all explained. On my paperback copy there is a laudatory blurb from Erle Stanley Gardner who says, "This book is in my opinion a mystery masterpiece." Very true. I'd go so far to call this novel a tour de force of a legal mystery as well as a caustic depiction of the fragility of a legal system all too susceptible to manipulation.
EASY TO FIND? The book is out there in both US and UK editions, but it is the US edition that oddly is in relative abundance with twenty copies for sale. The UK edition was reprinted at least three times that I can verify and yet I find only four copies for sale online. As always you ought to check libraries when copies for sale are this scarce.