September 27, 2010 6:10 am

A Capital Crime

A Capital Crime, by Laura Wilson, Quercus RRP£12.99, 352 pages

 

The trend for mixing fact and fiction has seen Oscar Wilde and Josephine Tey solving crimes, but Wilson’s opposite approach proves more satisfying. In the bitter winter of 1949, DI Ted Stratton heads for a grimy London cul-de-sac and uncovers a house of horrors; a dead woman and child hidden in a wash-house, and a tangle of changing stories from two male boarders. The suspect blames his fellow tenant, and, as more corpses are exposed, doubts about wrongful execution surface.

If the crimes sound familiar they should, for this is the account of 10 Rillington Place, where Reginald Christie and Timothy Evans confounded justice (and every subsequent enquiry) with a complex web of dishonesty. It is a perfect template for fiction: the outcome is still disputed, leaving Wilson free to study the effects of the murders.

Beautifully capturing the confused civility of London in those down-at-heel postwar years, the prose evokes Graham Greene, to touching and enthralling effect.

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