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The Penguin Famous Trials series was started by Harry Hodge, who was Managing, Director of William Hodge & Co., Ltd, Publishers and Shorthand Writers. The son and grandson of a printer, he followed his father as one of the most expert of shorthand writers in Scotland, and for some fifty years was a well-known figure in the Scottish Courts both in that capacity and as a publisher of legal works.
In 1905 he founded The Notable British Trials Series which now extends to 70 volumes, commencing with that cause celebre, the Trial of Madeleine Smith. He was steeped in criminology all his life and held the view that a trial should be at least twenty years old before it can proveitself to have been notable, although this view had to be modified under modern conditions.
As general editor of that series he carefully selected his editors and insisted on the greatest possible accuracy in the presentation of each volume. Outside of his business life Mr Hodge's main interest was devoted to music, and he has a number of compositions to his name. He died in November 1947.
Since his death both The Notable Trial Series and the Penguin Famous Trials have been edited by his son, James Hozier Hodge. Moreover, in 1948, after long negotiations, James Hodge produced the first volumes in the War Crimes Trials Series, of which he is the assistant general editor to Sir David Maxwell Fyfe,P.C., Q.C., M.P
From piracy to child-murder, Famous Trials 8 covers three centuries in its five cases. This volume opens with Captain Kidd, a respectable shipowner who turned pirate after he was fifty. Though undoubtedly a robber and a murderer, he does not come across as the black-hearted criminal of legend.
Dr Smethurst was found guilty of poisoning the woman he had married bigamously. At her inquest, the discovery that she was pregnant, along with only slight traces of poisonous substances being found, made a strong case for the defence. Conflicting evidence secured a reprieve for Dr Smethurst.
Rouse, on the other hand, who engineered the Blazing Car Mystery', was patently guilty. His tampering with the engine of a Morris Minor, and the subsequent fire it caused, led him to be easily caught, despite the fact that he was a careful planner.
Finally, this volume covers the trials of Patrick Carraher, the Glasgow slum murderer, whose guilt was never in any doubt, and describes the gruesome episode of Straffen, who escaped from Broadmoor and murdered a five-year-old girl as the culmination of years of mental disease.