Tonight I finished reading Arthur & George by Julian Barnes.
My verdict? TERRIFIC.
This is an author that definitely deserves a good reading!
I did no research whatsoever before picking this book up, so I had no idea it was of the historical fiction / thriller genre. I did not know it was based on real events and that the "Arthur" of the story is none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, writer of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries.
The novel is uniquely structured, alternating between the entirely separate, seemingly unconnected lives of.. well…. Arthur & George. I've already mentioned who Arthur is -- George is a much lesser known figure, historically speaking.
George Edalji, a vicar's son, is a half-caste [Parsee / Scottish] boy who grows up in a small Staffordshire village. His family becomes victim to a series of malicious and completely unwarranted [perhaps racially motivated] slander. Life for the Edaljis becomes unlivable as they are increasingly maligned by this anonymous letter-writer and prankster. And soon, letters are not all they have to worry about. Someone is maiming animals in the night, slashing away at the bellies of cows and horses, leaving the animals to slowly die. The effect on the community is devastating, because in turn-of-the-century  England, these are not only crimes against livestock, but against livelihoods.
Through what seems to be an explicit smear campaign aided by a less than competent police force, George is accused of the crimes. And convicted.
We, the reader, believe that he in innocent.
When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle picks up on the story, he is also convinced of George's innocence -- and sets out to clear George's name, seeking not only for exoneration, but reparation of this wrongful conviction. What follows is a re-telling of how Doyle virtually took on the persona of Sherlock Holmes, and painstakingly, courageously, and brilliantly tracked down the right clues -- finally achieving justice in what was essentially a travesty of the court system of the day.
It reads like a crime novel, but with an elegance and exquisiteness found only in the best of literature. Which is to say, we read not only a great plot, but also examine, in beautiful prose, the baseness and greatness of human nature. Barnes has stuffed all of that into these pages.