It is hard for us to imagine a time in this country when a man could be victimised because of his skin-colour. Or when the police could falsify evidence to prosecute an innocent suspect, or the courts find him guilty, leading to his spending years in prison before being pardoned. Or when the official inquiry could ‘spin’ its findings to protect the police, the judicial system and the Government. Hard, too, for us to imagine an age when the involvement of a celebrity could create a media buzz around a case that had previously gone under-reported. But we would do well to remember that, from the hilltops of Britain’s past, the beacons of justice, humanity and civilisation did not always burn with the dazzling intensity they do today.
In his new novel, Julian Barnes transports us back to such a time. As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, a bizarre series of crimes in rural Staffordshire became a most unlikely cause célèbre thanks to the intervention of Sir Arthur