William F. Deeck

RICHARD SHELDON – Poor Prisoner’s Defense. Simon and Schuster, US, hardcover, 1949. Hardcover reprint: Unicorn Mystery Book Club, 4-in-1 edition, December 1950. First published in the UK: Hutchinson, hardcover, 1949.

   Offered the junior brief in a [pro bono] “poor prisoner’s defense,” Dick Rayne can’t afford to turn it down, even though he has no experience in murder trials. Rayne has come late to the law and needs any brief he can get to keep going as a barrister. Even working with an incompetent solicitor is better than nothing.

   About a quarter of the novel is taken up by the trial of Rayne’s client for slitting the throat of his alleged paramour. Rayne himself isn’t sure whether he is guilty or not guilty. There is, however, no doubt in the jurors’ minds. A guilty verdict is arrived at, followed by a sentence of death.

   Still uncertain about his client’s guilt, Rayne, with the aid of his wife, begins his own investigation, with limited time and even more limited funds. Since apparently no one on trial in a mystery novel is ever guilty of the crime charged — although Jon Breen, the expert in this area, may be aware of exceptions — the reader knows the defendant didn’t do it.

   Who, then, did do it? That, too, is no surprise, but getting to the solution with Rayne and his wife is an enjoyable process.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 12, No. 3, Summer 1990.

Bibliographic Note:   Richard Sheldon was the author of one other crime novel, that being Harsh Evidence (Hutchinson, 1950). This later book takes place in England in 1874, according to Hubin, which means that Dick Rayne and his wife never had a second chance to show off their investigative abilities.

[UPDATE] 07-07-11.   After some discussion of the author in the comments, centering about the fact that nothing was known about him, Jamie Sturgeon purchased a copy of Sheldon’s second book and was rewarded with not only a photo and but a short biography as well. I’ve created a followup post here to include this and perhaps any additional information that may be found.