A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment
By John Preston. (Other Press, 352 pages,$27.95.)
Newspaper titan William Randolph Hearst said that “truth is not only stranger than fiction, it is more interesting.” Author John Preston bears witness in “A Very English Scandal,” a book that details the downfall of prominent politician Jeremy Thorpe, who was tried in 1979 for conspiring to murder his former male lover. The Liberal Party leader had been rattled by what he saw as low-key but recurring blackmail. Particularly sticky for Thorpe was the timing of their affair, which occurred before laws decriminalizing sex between men took effect.
Thorpe’s plan went astray. The gunman was supposed to approach and shoot the man, Norman Scott, who had brought his dog along. The assassin chose to shoot Scott’s Great Dane first. The handgun jammed and he fled the scene.
Inquiries, of course, ensued. Thorpe and three other men went to trial only to be acquitted of murder conspiracy, thanks in part to an extraordinary summation by the judge. The fix clearly was in at the trial, but Thorpe was now a political pariah. He died at 85 on Dec. 4, 2014.
Preston is witty in his speculations and concise in his writing. He also places his story in context, ferreting out charming detail. For example, a measure to decriminalize sex between men started bumping through the House of Lords in 1965 under the guidance of the eighth Earl of Arran, or “Boofy” to his friends. Lord Arran’s previous legislative foray was a call to protect the rights of badgers. (He and his wife felt so strongly about this that badgers had the run of their house.)
Asked why his measure to decriminalize gay sex passed while a bill to protect badgers had not, Lord Arran replied, “There are not many badgers in the House of Lords.”
Good Seeds: A Menominee Indian Food Memoir
By Thomas Pecore Weso. (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 96 pages, $19.95.)
For most Americans, food is a pleasure, a pastime, a craft or an art, more likely to become a problem by its excess than by its absence. For most humans since the dawn of time, food has meant life, and its absence, death. Thomas Pecore Weso, a 60-something member of the Menominee Indian Nation of Wisconsin, grew up in a place and time when food was everything — life, capital and the vehicle of cultural and social life.
His grandparents and parents did much of their gathering and cooking of food in the traditional ways of North Woods Indians, while embracing many foods brought their way by immigrant Europeans. Weso’s writing is plain and workaday, spiced with family stories and void of platitudes or nostalgia (as well as salads). A sample: “Some of the people from the Department of Natural Resources used to say that the bears ate rotten apples only because of the grubs and other protein in them, but that was not true. They ate fermented apples like we would drink apple beer, and they seemed to enjoy themselves until they passed out. We never bothered them.”
He writes of the animals he has hunted, the wild rice he has gathered, the meals he grew up on, the family members he cooked and ate with, and the ghosts he has feared. The book’s recipes range from Porcupine Roast Dinner to Maple Candy to Dandelion Wine. Reading this book, I was reminded of how much I liked squirrel meat as a kid in a rural area, and how my urban co-workers laughed when they heard that. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, for all of us, Indian or non-Indian, food came from closer to home, and was what we were lucky enough to have. This book is a gentle, wise reminder of that.