John Wilkins is an unappealing person and his narrative is the majority of the story in Julian Symons innovative mystery The Colour of Murder. The novel has three parts, John Wilkins’ narrative to his psychiatrist who is doing an assessment on behalf of his lawyers takes up Part One. His personality comes through powerfully, which is too bad for him because he is unlikable. Part Two includes conversations between his lawyers, family, supporters, detractors, and trial proceedings including testimony and jury instructions through the verdict. The last part is an epilogue catching you up on reactions and what happened next. It’s an intriguing and unusual format in its formality.
John Wilkins was an unhappy man in an unhappy marriage who became infatuated with a local librarian who happened to be pleasant to him. He constructed a fantasy romance built on a few smiles, politeness, and a single theater date. He was a complete stalker and everything women hate but was he a murderer? Even he wasn’t sure. He was a blackout drunk or maybe, who knows, maybe there is some psychological explanation such a disassociative disorder.
The story focuses mainly on whether Wilkins is guilty, not on whether there were persons known or unknown who could have committed murder. I won’t say who is murdered, because that revelation comes quite far into the story. There are plenty of people whom you can see as potential victims since Wilkins resents people and always sees himself as a victim, one of the reasons he is so irritating.
I had altogether too much of John Wilkins and could understand the desire to convict him. Symons makes us understand exactly how unlikable and hard to believe he is. The Colour of Murder succeeds in demonstrating the fallibility of a trial, how personal biases creep in, how the manipulations by lawyers and their appeals to social biases work, less to seek the truth, and more to get a win. The trial is fascinating and I would have enjoyed the book so much more if there were more trial and less John Wilkins. Poor John Wilkins, will he be judged on the facts or his personal appeal? It’s a good question, not just in this case, but in real life.
The Colour of Murder will be released on February 5th. I received an e-galley from the publisher through NetGalley.