Theme of the Week

S, T, U, V, J, K (misc. week) – Agriculture, technology, military, law, politics – All the President’s Men

Reader: Kitty Simmons
Author: Jim Bishop
Title: The Murder Trial of Judge Peel
Call: KF224 P47 B57
Rating: 4

Summary: “As a writer I have sometimes chronicled the trials of the big murders, and of them all I consider this the weirdest and most complex.” ––p. x

Ever a fan of the true crime genre, I was delighted to discover this little gem in the K section while browsing the stacks in search of a book for this week’s theme selection. As might be expected from the book’s title and its classification in the “Law” section, the trial takes front and center stage here. The crime and preliminaries are laid out in the first 30 pages, with the rest of the book divided into chapters for each of the seventeen days of the trial, ending rather abruptly as the verdict is revealed with just a few remarks about the aftermath of that verdict. In brief, Judge Peel, fearful that Judge Chillingworth is about to ruin his career with a ruling in a misconduct case, hires two men to kill the threatening judge. Chillingworth’s wife had the misfortune of being present when the killers arrived so she was also murdered. The setting is small town south Florida in the late 1950s.

Jim Bishop, newspaper reporter, columnist, and author, enlivens this rather sordid and not particularly sensational crime through a colorful but fact–filled style. By approaching the material as a storyteller rather than a legal analyst, the courtroom drama never drags for the reader, though the pace of the trial was certainly frustratingly slow for many of the participants. The following quote describing the scene as the prosecutor begins cross examination of defendant Peel illustrates the writing that was such a pleasure to read: “There was a fat moon over the St. Lucie courthouse and the air was scented with night jasmine as O’Connell got to his feet to bury his old friend.”–p. 196.

Having some familiarity with the geography and culture portrayed here enhanced my enjoyment of this book. The author drops some tantalizing hints about the outcome which were effective in keeping me from peeking ahead to the end, which I must admit was a little anti–climatic. As is the case with most true crime books, the crime itself is disturbing. The judge and his wife were innocent victims whose lives were needlessly and cruelly taken. Although justice comes, solace is often harder to find.

Theme Archives

B’s – philosophy, psychology, theology, religions
C or D – history of Europe, Africa, Asia, archaeology History of the World part 1
E or F – history of the Americas – Roots
G or H – Economics, business, anthropology, sociology, crime – Wall Street
L – Education – Stand and Deliver
M or N – Music, Art – Amadeus
P – Language and Literature – The Diary of Bridget Jones