While A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot in the Houses of Parliament by John Preston wasn’t exactly what I expected, despite my reluctance, I found myself sucked into the true story regarding the leadership of the Liberal Party in the British Parliament beginning in 1965. Jeremy Thorpe with his friends Peter Bessell and David Holmes wheel and deal their way throughout the book. If their strategies were limited to politics there wouldn’t have been much of a story, but Thorpe was an active, often indiscreet, homosexual whose affair with the handsome, unstable Norman Josiffe (also known as Norman Scott), led to many grief stricken moments of despair over the possibility of discovery. Out of desperation, Thorpe even plotted an unsuccessful attempt on Scott’s life which ended in his resignation and a major trial featuring barrister George Carman on the defense team. How this natural born, but flawed, leader was ruined makes a fascinating tale. Told through the viewpoints of the various players, the author has done an incredible amount of research to put their authentic voices in the forefront providing more than enough details to substantiate the events. There is even a final chapter describing what happened to the major players in this drama after the trial was over.
While this book is very readable, it is a tad too long and I wish some of the details could have been condensed or omitted although I realize the author wanted to be thorough.
What astonished me is that there were still laws on the books prior to 1967 which proclaimed homosexual acts between consenting adults a criminal offense and that even after that date such a tendency could result in the loss of a job. Due to this policy, blackmail became a very real threat for the numerous individuals mentioned who were secretly in the closet. In an era where Gay Marriage is legal (at least in the United States), it is hard to fathom the hardship faced for those who were not born heterosexual. Yet, even with laws protecting their rights as citizens, society still too often gangs up and harasses members of the LGBT community.
Preston includes a comprehensive index and a list of acknowledgements which reference the numerous titles he used in his research of the events surrounding this scandal.
Four stars and a thank you to Other Press and Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.