London, 1948: Harry Lane is a 23-year-old child in a man’s body. He’s a simple sort, not good with complicated tasks (like making eggs; he mixes the shells with the eggs) but he can carry large sides of meat at the butcher’s shop, where he works with his dad.
One night, his father asks him to run an errand to his aunt’s, a walk he’s made many times. But a new street sign confuses him, and it’s taking him a bit longer, when he reaches Hunter’s Park. And what he walks into is a man brutally murdering a young woman. The man walks off, and he rushes to help, only to have her die in his arms. Just as a policeman comes up.
Harry Lane is Innocent is a new novella from J. Scaddon, a writer based in Wales and the author of several crime stories and children’s works. His writing focuses on novellas and short stories. And he has a background in forensic science that serves him well in this new story, and it is largely because forensic evidence is ignored.
In the short form of the novella, Scaddon explores a legal profession whose members seem more interested in a golf game or a step up the career ladder than in serving their clients, a judiciary that doesn’t want to be bothered with details, a police force thrilled at how quickly it can make an arrest and extract a confession, and a prison system that turns on strict order. The suspense and the tension build as a young attorney races to have the Home Office issue a stay in Harry’s execution. The ground Scaddon covers in what is a long short story is amazing, as is gow he gets inside the mind of Harry Lane.
The story is also educational. This is Britain in 1948, and capital punishment still exists. The conversations between the two executioners assigned to hang Harry are both instructive in the ways of state-approved death and chilling in their details.
Scaddon’s novellas include The Vagrant, Dr. Demontig – Serial Killer, and The Life of Abe. He’s also written three children’s stories.
Harry Lane is Innocent in an engrossing story, one that keeps the reader wanting to shake somebody.
Photograph by Marina Shemesh via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.