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The Anatomy of a Murder

Robert Traver

Orion Crime Master Series, £6.99 Rel: October 2003

Reviewed by Ayo Onatade

When one thinks of classic crime novels that have managed to stand the test of time, then Robert Traver’s Anatomy of a Murder must surely be on the list. Contemporary readers of this novel (first published in 1958) may consider it to be rather passé. However, it can be seen as possibly the book that set the model for the way in which courtroom dramas are portrayed in a novel. Certainly this novel is seen as a classic book that takes a long hard look at the American legal process and how it works.

Anatomy is a gripping tale of deceit, murder and the subsequent sensational trial. Charismatically fascinating, the reader is immediately drawn to its precision and stunning portrayal not only of the background, but also the trial that took place as well as the characters involved; especially the defence attorney Paul Biegler.

Based on a true murder that happened in Michigan over 50 years ago, this novel is a detailed description of a famous murder trial. From the beginning of the novel, one is quite aware of the fact that army Lt Manion killed Barney Quill. There are too many witnesses who saw him commit the offence, and in fact he does not deny it. What the reader is forced to consider right up until to the end of the book is whether or not Manion is blameworthy and also whether or not the killing was acceptable in the light of what precipitated the act.

Traver’s may not be considered a good writer in this day and age, but at the time it is clear that he certainly knew what he was doing. Reading this novel, our minds are acutely and subtlety attuned, by the author to the nuances in the book. From the fact as to whether or not the killing was justified to the way in which criminal law is practiced and the strategies used during the trial, we soon see that the relative issues of guilt verses innocence is left trailing in the dust as it soon turns to a matter of prosecuting and defence attorney trying to outwit one another. Truth takes second place to everything else that is going on.

As old as this book is, it still combines great writing and suspense with a unique setting. Well worth reading and a place on any self-respecting crime reader’s bookshelf.