I picked this up on Audible as it sounded rather intriguing.
In 1941, Molly Lefebure was a newspaper reporter. While following a case at Walthamstow Coroner’s Court, she was offered a secretarial job by renowned pathologist Dr (Cedric) Keith Simpson (who she then refers to affectionately as CKS throughout the rest of the book). As she wanted to be a writer, Molly eventually decided to accept the offer as she felt it would provide good experience and knowledge.
So, while World War 2 raged on and London was living through the Blitz, Molly was travelling across London and much of the south east visiting murder scenes, helping Simpson examine bodies and going to trials.
Molly walked an average 12 miles a day, worked from 8.30am to 10.30pm, seven days a week and was paid a starting salary of £1 a week. She also had to deal with people’s perceptions of her new role. There is a fabulous passage about the difference between the reactions between male and female friends, when they are alone, or in mixed company.
Peppered amongst the quite vivd descriptions of murders and trials, there is a lot of talk of lunch, tea and sardine sandwiches. The first night after she’d started the role, her landlady served her up a pork chop, and Molly reflected that if she didn’t eat it then, she would be likely to have turned vegetarian. So she made sure she ate it!
There was so much to love about this book – not just the interesting (sometimes high profile) cases, but insight into the judicial system (murderers were still hung at this time) and a matter-of-fact account of every day life living during the war (on 23rd August 1944, Molly would have loved to have been celebrating the liberation of Paris, but found herself eating sardine sandwiches and catching a train to Ashford together with armies of families of hop-pickers – including all their belongings, screaming children and cats & dogs!).
Molly gave up the job when she became engaged and originally this book was published in 1955 entitled “Evidence for the Crown: Experiences of a Pathologist’s Secretary“. It has been reprinted this year and I seem to have recalled reading somewhere that it is planned to be turned into a dramatisation (I am thinking much like Call The Midwife).
Soon after finishing the book, I happened to watch Pierrepoint with the fantastic Timothy Spall playing the eponymous, most prolific and last hangman in Britain, and couldn’t help thinking that they would have dealt with some of the same cases.
I have no idea at all what Molly Lefebure’s voice might sound like, but I like to think that narrator Lucy Scott sounds just like her! That cut-glass ‘proper’ English accent regaling the tales of war and murder and cadavers and post mortems and courtrooms and hangings and the ever-present sardine sandwiches felt just perfect!