Lives are at the mercy of quacks online

Independent on Sunday

Sunday 23 December 2012

The most surprising people go in for magical thinking. Faced with a devastating diagnosis, they ignore medical advice and try alternative treatments they’ve heard about from friends or on the internet. Towards the end of his life, the founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, told his biographer he regretted delaying surgery and chemotherapy after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003. Jobs is regarded by some of his admirers as a genius, yet he reportedly lived on fruit and vegetables, and tried hydrotherapy before finally opting for the most advanced treatments available.

Two days ago, the High Court had to decide whether to allow doctors to give radiotherapy to a seven-year-old boy, Neon Roberts. It’s a distressing case because the boy’s mother, Sally Roberts, has been in and out of court in attempts to prevent an operation to remove a brain tumour and radiotherapy. Earlier this month, she even went on the run for four days, arguing that she was “not persuaded” of the need for surgery and was worried about side-effects. Doctors said it was “highly, highly likely” that the boy would die quite soon without it and the operation went ahead last week. But Roberts was in court again on Friday.

Why would a parent reject what is so clearly in the best interests of a child? It’s not unknown for adults to refuse life-saving treatment for themselves: five years ago, a 22-year-old Jehovah’s Witness died in hospital in Shrewsbury when she refused an urgent blood transfusion after giving birth to twins. Emma Gough chose to die rather than go against her church’s teaching that blood transfusions are forbidden by the Bible. That’s perplexing enough to outsiders, who find it hard to understand how a woman could deny her children a mother because of irrational beliefs held by a religious sect.

In this latest case, Neon’s mother appears to be risking her son’s life for irrational reasons. A lawyer representing the hospital trust was scathing about the private practitioners consulted by Mrs Roberts, pointing out that one could not spell the name of the boy’s tumour and seemed to have culled information about it from the internet. She said the practitioners’ websites offered herbs, nutritional supplements, enzymes, diets and “psychological healing strategies” to treat cancer.

A belief in this nonsense, when evidence-based conventional medicine is available, is a textbook example of magical thinking. Sigmund Freud used the term to describe what happens when individuals respond to a crisis by over-estimating their knowledge and capacity to influence events. Steve Jobs had a rare form of pancreatic cancer which might have responded to prompt surgery and chemotherapy, but he ignored medical advice for nine months.

In the Roberts case, a court intervened and the boy is getting the radiotherapy he urgently needs. But when thousands of quack therapies are available at the click of a mouse, it’s clear that this new form of superstition threatens lives.


The Age of Doubt by Andrea Camilleri

Inspector Montalbano took a long time to ‘make it’ in Britian. His latest whodunnit sees the Italian maverick fall prey to unfamiliar fears
Sunday Times, 16 December 2012
International success has come late for the Sicilian writer Andrea Camilleri. These days, his novels and their television adaptations are familiar to a British audience, but the first English translation appeared only a decade ago. Camilleri started publishing his Inspector Montalbano novels in 1994, but he didn’t win the CWA International Dagger until this summer, when he was 86.
The Age of Doubt, Camilleri’s 14th novel, finds Montalbano in a more introspective mood than usual. Published in Italy four years ago, it is full of rage towards Camilleri’s bête noir, the former Italian prime minister Silvio ­Berlusconi. When Montalbano looks out to sea from his apartment, he thinks about the desperate ­African immigrants who risk the crossing to Europe in overcrowded boats. They end up in reception centres that the inspector describes savagely as ‘veritable concentration camps’.
Montalbano shares Camilleri’s radical politics, which belong in a tradition of Italian crime fiction whose most famous practitioner was another Sicilian, Leonardo Sciascia. One of the subjects that turns up in both men’s fiction is the mafia, but what troubles Montalbano in The Age of Doubt isn’t organised crime or people trafficking; he’s in the grip of a personal crisis that gives the book its title. The inspector, now in his late fifties, seems to be suffering the pangs of age. He has always been passionate, sardonic and impatient with authority, but his cynicism rarely turns into depression.
So it is surprising to find him tormented by nightmares, including a dream in which he has died and sees his body laid out in his office. In a surreal scene, his long-suffering girlfriend, Livia, tells him she’s too busy to attend his funeral, ­something Montalbano takes as a warning about his neglect of her. Themes of death and loss pervade the novel, creating an embarrassing situation for the inspector when he invents a sick child to get the local police commissioner’s assistant off his back.
He is honest enough to realise that these intimations of mortality may be behind his infatuation with a beautiful young policewoman he meets in the Harbour Office, during what appears to be a routine investigation. Montalbano expects to meet a man (he’s on the left but he isn’t a feminist), and is knocked sideways by Lieutenant Laura Bella­donna, whose surname seems to be a heavy-handed joke on Camilleri’s part. They are thrown together because a yacht has arrived in the harbour, accompanied by a dinghy with a corpse on board. The yacht’s owner, a wealthy widow, claims to know nothing about the dead man, who is so badly beaten that he is unrecognisable. But the case gets more complicated when it transpires that the cause of death was poison and the injuries have been inflicted afterwards to prevent identification.
The Montalbano novels have always contained a seam of comedy, but here the action is so frantic that it comes perilously close to farce. That may be intentional on Camilleri’s part, reflecting Montalbano’s disordered state of mind, but it sits oddly with the novel’s sombre atmosphere. The book is much more about the inspector’s internal world than the murder inquiry, bringing to the fore what has always been Camilleri’s most significant weakness. He has seldom written well about women, reflecting the sexist assumptions of an earlier age. Belladonna is a fantasy figure, falling for the older  Montalbano for reasons that are never explained. Clearly, this is a novel that aspires to tragedy. But it ends on a false note more in keeping with 19th-century opera than a 21st-century crime novel.
Mantle £16.99, trans by Stephen Sartarelli

Leveson: the battlelines are drawn

This is a long game and the Leveson recommendations will become law eventually

Independent on Sunday, 2 December 2012

Historic events come in strange guises, and their long-term consequences are not always easy to predict. Last week’s publication of Lord Justice Leveson’s vast report on the British press feels like just such an event, prompting a ferocious debate and splitting the coalition government. But will the row over his recommendations matter in 20 years’ time? My guess is that the immediate rejection of a key element of the report by editors and government ministers will come to seem as quaint as it is misguided.

At the heart of the furore is the minimal statutory underpinning suggested by the report. Without it, the proposals amount to little more than a beefed-up version of what we have now: a regulatory system that has no force in law. The consequence, as the report describes in forensic detail, isn’t press freedom but press impunity. Phone hacking and bribing sources are illegal, but many of the unpleasant things journalists have done are not. Swarms of reporters habitually descend on people who find themselves caught up in tragedy, asking intrusive questions and ignoring polite requests to go away. Leveson is in no doubt that this amounts to harassment. He’s also struck by the  weakness of internal disciplinary proceedings, which are rarely invoked even when the police discover evidence of illegal activities by hundreds of named journalists, as they did during Operation Motorman.

Lord Justice Leveson has produced a report that balances the freedom of the press and the right of individuals to redress. He also, I suspect, couched his words in terms he thought all three party leaders and the victims of press intrusion would be able to accept. His proposals are cautious and not unduly onerous on news organisations, despite the hyperbole with which some of them have responded. If, as I expect, the report is eventually approved by Parliament, I suspect we will look back and wonder what the fuss was about.

Make no mistake: this is a long game. I’m not surprised by the initial response from Cameron and the hapless Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, but it’s far from being the final word. I always believed a cross-party consensus on press reform was desirable but unlikely, and I’m sure this weekend’s political manoeuvres offer only a glimpse of what’s happening behind the scenes. The Tories’ bizarre plan to produce a Bill showing Leveson’s proposals to be unworkable is too absurd to be taken seriously, so the initiative has passed to Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg.

Miliband has already said he will call a vote in the House of Commons in January, which gives him time to assemble a parliamentary majority in favour of accepting the report’s principal recommendations. Meanwhile Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem deputy leader and a victim of phone hacking, has raised the possibility of introducing a short non-government Bill to enact Leveson if his party and Labour cannot reach an agreement with Cameron. The Government will no doubt hope it can see off any such Bill through its control of the Parliamentary timetable. But draft legislation is likely to have the support of Lib Dem cabinet members, which would make for a very unusual backbench Bill.

The reason this matters is that the public and victims of press intrusion want the same thing: a better press, with stronger public interest defences. On page after page, Leveson demonstrates that red-top editors pursued private access to politicians not because they wanted to know what they were up to, but because they wanted influence.

Events in Parliament last week show they still have it, underlining Leveson’s point that the relationship has been too close for more than three decades. On Thursday, the PM failed his own “victim test”, trading the prospect of better journalism for a day’s fawning headlines. Ten days ago, victims of press intrusion met Clegg and Miliband to discuss the way forward. Now we’re asking them to be bold and ensure we get a press that  defends the weak instead of abusing its own power.


Banned, on the Run

Literary Review, November 2012

Joseph Anton: a Memoir

Salman Rushdie

Towards the end of Salman Rushdie’s memoir, he is having lunch in the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles with Christopher Hitchens and Warren Beatty. The movie star reveals that he has recently seen Rushdie with his girlfriend, Padma Lakshmi, whom he declares to be ‘so beautiful that it made me want to faint’. Rushdie suggests calling Lakshmi to tell her this exciting news and Beatty asks him to pass on a message: ‘Will you please tell that her that Warren Beatty is here and he thought she was so beautiful that it made him want to faint’. Rushdie obliges: ‘I’m having lunch with Warren Beatty and he says to tell you that he thinks you’re so beautiful that it makes him want to faint’. Lakshmi agrees to join them and turns up ‘looking, of course, as if she might make Warren Beatty faint’.

Have we all got the point? Rushdie knows some very famous people, a circumstance that’s been referred to more than once by the time this anecdote appears on page 615 of his door-stopper of a book. (Joseph Anton, by the way, is the pseudonym he was known by during his years under police protection.) He even knows a movie star who refers to himself in the third person, as Rushdie does throughout the memoir. Oh, and he used to have a girlfriend (later his fourth wife) so beautiful that she made the very famous movie star who refers to himself in the third person want to faint.

On another occasion Rushdie almost met Nelson Algren, former lover of Simone de Beauvoir, but Algren dropped dead before he had the opportunity to tell the novelist in person how much he admired Midnight’s Children. But Carlos Fuentes did manage to fix up a phone conversation with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who said that Rushdie and J M Coetzee were the two writers he always tried to follow outside the Spanish language. No compliment, no favourable review, is too fulsome to get a mention in the book. This is balanced by a prodigious memory for slights, whether the source is an attention-seeking back-bench MP or a critic who has the temerity to dislike Rushdie’s work. James Wood features on more than one occasion, skewered as ‘the malevolent Procrustes of literary criticism, who tormented his victims on the narrow bed of his inflexible literary ideologies, pulling them painfully apart or else cutting them off at the knees’.

I wanted to like this book. The extra-judicial death sentence imposed on Rushdie by the Ayatollah Khomeini in1989 was an outrage, and I have no truck with appeasers who say writers should go out of their way not to offend. Rushdie was entitled to protection from the British government as long as the threat to his life lasted, and I wish the Thatcher and Major administrations had been more robust in his defence. The threat to the author of The Satanic Verses marked a resurgence of confidence on the part of intemperate clerics, and a salvo in the contest between extreme sects of Shia and Sunni Islam which continues today.

Rushdie’s account of everyday life under the protection of armed police officers is vivid and interesting, to begin with at any rate. Authors are not used to being in his position, having to rely on armed cops and intelligence officers, and it’s easy to see why he became angry and frustrated. Constant moves from one friend’s house to another – no safe house was ever provided – created an endless state of upheaval, while contradictory decisions about risk levels resulted in abruptly cancelled public appearances. All of this must have been close to intolerable, and it went on for years.

But there is a problem. Rushdie is one of those people, not exactly rare in the literary world, who exist in a permanent state of anxiety about what people think of him. He has some insight into this, naming a section of the memoir ‘The Trap of Wanting To Be Loved’. There’s also a revealing aside about his response when the Danish government refuses to allow him to visit Copenhagen in 1996 to receive a prize: ‘As usual his first feeling was of humiliation, but his second feeling was of outrage, and he decided that this time he would not stand for it.’ A sense of humiliation followed by intemperate rage pervades the book, creating a portrait of a man whose foot you would not wish to step on inadvertently in a pub.

A wise author would have cut the passage in which Rushdie discusses a request for money from his first ex-wife Clarissa, who was in remission from breast cancer at the time; her death from cancer is harrowingly described later in the book. And he sounds peevish when he complains about the cost of building work at his own house in The Bishop’s Avenue – one of the most expensive streets in London – while he is also buying his then girl-friend’s flat in Hampstead.

Rushdie expected support from writers and politicians against the fatwa, which is perfectly reasonable. The impression left by this memoir is that he also expected unconditional love for himself and his novels, which isn’t. The book is too long, too solipsistic, and reveals assumptions about women which recall an era before the second wave of feminism. Sadly, in the contest between grievance and judgement, Rushdie generally comes down on the wrong side.

Jonathan Cape £ 25

As someone who was hacked by the News of the World, I believe this scandal is about abuse of power

Leveson said the press is exercising unaccountable power 

The Indepndent, Friday 30  November 2012

It all ended where it began, in the brutalist concrete Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in Central London. Just over a year ago, I walked across Parliament Square from Westminster tube station to hear one editor after another warn that the Leveson Inquiry was a dire threat to press freedom. Yesterday I made the same journey, this time to sit in a hushed fourth floor room and read an advance copy of Lord Justice Leveson’s report.

The first thing to arrive was the summary, a modest document of 50 pages. Then officials began delivering cardboard boxes containing the four-volume, 2000-page report itself. I don’t know how much it weighs but I can hardly lift it, and it’s weighty in other ways as well. After days of hysterical claims about Britain turning into Zimbabwe, and editors proclaiming their readiness to go to prison, Lord Leveson didn’t declare martial law after all. He didn’t even, as far as I could tell, strangle any kittens.

Instead, in the measured paragraphs of a law lord, Leveson pointed out that not a single witness had proposed that the Government or MPs should be involved in the regulation of the press. Clearly, the judge has discovered that sections of the press are as cavalier about facts when they write about their own affairs as they are when they tackle ‘love rats’ and ‘reality’ TV stars.

While we’re still absorbing the details of Leveson’s proposal – an independent regulatory body, underpinned by legislation – what’s already clear is that his critique of parts of the press is devastating. As someone whose phone was hacked by the News of the World, I’ve always believed that this scandal is about abuse of power. Some newspapers became so obsessed by celebrity and private life that they failed to do their proper job, which is vital in a democracy. And I discovered yesterday that Lord Leveson agrees with me. Far from holding power to account, his report declares that in some regards ‘the press is exercising unaccountable power which nobody holds to account’.

That’s a damning verdict. So is Leveson’s conclusion that British politicians have been too close to the press for 30 to 35 years. I’m pleased that he’s listened to women’s groups who gave evidence about the portrayal of women in the tabloids. Leveson thinks the Daily Sport is ‘hardly distinguishable’ from the softer end of top-shelf porn, and that the Sun and the Daily Star have a tendency to ‘sexualise and demean’ women. One of the report’s most welcome recommendations is that groups representing women should be able to make complaints to the new regulator.

The report is robust about phone hacking. Leveson is clear that hacking was ‘far more than a covert, secret activity’, known to nobody except one or two practitioners of the ‘dark arts’. The Inquiry has concluded that hacking may well have taken place at the Mirror titles and that it occurred ‘within the industry on more than a localised basis’ from the late 1990s to 2006.

With me at the QEII Centre yesterday were many victims of press harassment. We were pleased to read the report’s condemnation of ‘injudicious, sensationalised and intemperate reporting’, and an acknowledgement of the emotional impact of intrusion into private grief. It was also instructive to see one of Leveson’s sternest critics, the Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, in the firing line for once. The report cites his testimony as evidence of a ‘cultural unwillingness in parts of the press to consider the consequences of publication on the individuals concerned’.

Victims of hacking and intrusion have waited a long time for someone to stand up for them. Yesterday Lord Leveson did much of what we hoped for, only to have one of his key recommendations rejected by David Cameron in the House of Commons. As the prime minister spoke, the mood at the QEII Centre changed from cautious optimism to disbelief. Let me assure him that he has a fight on his hands.


Why women fight women

From bishops to Bruni to the suffragettes: women voting against female interests is nothing new

The Guardian, Wednesday 28 November 2012

Some women don’t want to become bishops. They don’t even want other women to become bishops. That much is evident from records released by Church House, which show that women made up almost half of the lay people who voted against legislation to allow female bishops in the Church of England. Voting figures show that 33 of the 74 General Synod lay members who voted against the measure were women, most of them conservative evangelicals or members of the church’s Anglo-Catholic wing. They had the support of another 2,200 women who signed a petition opposing reform.

It’s hard not to react to these figures by asking why some women appear to be their own worst enemies. Why do they actively oppose what seems to be in their own interest? The General Synod vote runs against the current of history, which suggests that women are increasingly voting for politicians who favour equality, such as President Obama. Reactionary positions on abortion and contraception were defeated in one contest after another in the US last month, and opinion polls in the UK suggest that women voters are deserting the Conservatives in droves.

The idea that placing women in positions of authority over men is somehow against the natural order of things sounds quaint in the 21st century. Yet it still strikes a chord with a surprising number of women – not just in the church but also, shamefully, in politics. On Monday there wasn’t a single woman on the government frontbench to hear George Osborne announce the next governor of the Bank of England. Women ministers don’t need to bother their little heads about finance, it appears, any more than women in the church need to put on robes and tell male priests what to do in their own parishes. After last week it also seems that women don’t need, or don’t have the opportunity, to apply for the job of director general of the BBC.

This goes some way to explaining the power politics behind otherwise inexplicable decisions. Faced with a gap between the rhetoric of equality and what actually happens within organisations, it’s not so surprising that some women choose the safe option of identifying with traditional centres of power.Look at those “first ladies” who find it easier to get close to power than seek it on their own behalf. When Carla Bruni-Sarkozy announces in Vogue that women don’t need feminism, she’s speaking as a woman who’s experienced the material advantages of attaching herself to one of the world’s most powerful men.

These women have got where they have – somewhere quite comfortable – without rocking the boat, and they’re not keen on women who challenge the status quo. Identifying with men is a traditional means of negotiating patriarchal power, and women who go down that route tend to share reactionary male views of other women. If you’re a conservative woman in the Church of England, the prospect of “pushy” women getting power is quite scary, so of course you’re going to vote against it. The last thing any traditional woman wants to be accused of is appearing confrontational, even if accepting male power is self-defeating in the long run.

In many ways, women voting against women is hardly a new phenomenon. Before the first world war, the threat of becoming “unsexed” was used against the suffragettes, scaring some women into joining the Anti-Suffrage League founded in 1908 by the novelist Mrs Humphry Ward. Ward is a cautionary figure in the history of female emancipation, a bestselling novelist who took her campaign to extremes, getting her son Arnold elected as a Conservative MP so that he could campaign against votes for women. Ward had so internalised the notion of power as male that she couldn’t see the
difference between wanting equality and wanting to be a man. I suspect a similar confusion lies behind the synod’s vote, at least on the part of lay members who fear that women would lose their femininity if they became bishops. It’s not an unusual fear among women who aspire to some form of political involvement, as we can see from yesterday’s news that a WI branch in Devon is holding pole-dancing classes.

In her 1983 book Right-Wing Women, Andrea Dworkin argued that some women acquiesce to male authority in order to gain protection from male violence. She was right, but it isn’t just fear of violence that makes women act against their long-term interest. There’s also the little question of approval and status, as Vogue‘s interview with Bruni-Sarkozy reveals. “I’m not at all an active feminist,” trills the wife of the former president of France. Channelling her inner housewife evidently works for her, even if it’s not a role most modern women aspire to.

This squabbling sect has no place in the Lords

Independent on Sunday, 25 November 2012

Imagine a body with a female hereditary leader, a male chief executive and an all-male board which women aren’t allowed to join. Obviously we’re talking about a dysfunctional organisation which, you might suppose, is crying out for a challenge under equality law. Now imagine that this body has an automatic right to put its directors in the country’s legislature, where they are able to lecture us on controversial matters. Some mistake, surely?

Far from it: what I’ve just described is the privileged position of the Church of England. And it’s why last week’s fiasco, in which the Synod failed to pass a proposal to allow women to become bishops, matters to us all. As a non-believer, I’m more than happy to mock men in dresses who represent an organisation which won’t allow women to join its senior ranks, but the matter is more serious than that. Even in the unelected House of Lords, the presence of 26 Anglican bishops is an affront to democracy. They occupy places which aren’t open to women, as long as the Church continues to have its really quite inexplicable problems with gender.

In effect, the Church is permitted to operate its own male enclave in Parliament, where its representatives vote on matters affecting the female half of the population, including abortion and sex education. This is bad enough, but the Church isn’t the only organisation which has failed to adapt to a world in which women expect to be treated equally. Last week the BBC Trust drew up a shortlist of one white man in its search for a new director general, and gave him a publicly funded salary of almost half a million pounds. The BBC plays a more significant role in public life than the Church of England, and this is wrong on so many levels that I barely know where to start.

By comparison, the problem of the Church is easy to solve. Some people defend its leaders by pointing out that they want women to become bishops, but senior clergy have yet to devise a mechanism to see off the hard-core evangelicals who think it has to be led by men. The fact that they’re still arguing about it, and about subjects such as homosexual clergy and gay marriage, would be comical if it didn’t have a direct impact on how our democracy functions.

The Church’s political power is a relic of a period when it had much greater support, but these days its influence is disproportionate in a society where most of us aren’t practising Christians. That’s why, after the latest debacle, the argument for disestablishment is stronger than ever. Even some of its staunchest defenders admit that the Church looks like a squabbling sect, incapable of solving its own problems let alone giving moral guidance.

Some organisations find adapting to modernity more painful than others, and a Church stripped of its legal privileges could argue that it’s entitled to thrash out its conflicts in private. Time for a retreat, I think, in both senses.


Hard Twisted

Sunday Times, 18 November 2012

by C Joseph Greaves

Stories based in America’s Great Depression often focus on men struggling to find work. Hard Twisted is set in the 1930s but its main character, unusually, is a 13-year-old girl. Lucile Garrett is a vulnerable child in a world of men, and the novel’s most wrenching scenes gain added pathos from the knowledge that it’s based on a true story.

In 1994 the author, C  Joseph Greaves, a lawyer, was hiking in a remote area of San Juan County, Utah, when he stumbled across two human skulls. From the location, he concluded they were Indian skulls from one of the local tribes, and bone fragments suggested they’d been shot. This macabre find sent Greaves on a mission to research the history of the period, and led him to the true story of the 1935 “skeleton murder” trial.

The victim was Lucile’s father, Dillard. His remains were found near a farm belonging to a family called Palmer outside the town of Peerless, Texas, in December 1934. Dillard was a stern, ­God-fearing man who had struggled to bring up his only child after her mother’s death. Father and daughter travelled round the state together, looking for farm work and camping in whatever shelter they could find.

The following year, a con man called Clint Palmer was convicted of Garrett’s murder, and the principal witness for the prosecution was Lucile, known to her friends as ­Lottie. The trial is the starting-point for Greaves’s novel, which is an imaginative reconstruction of the relationship between Lottie and her father’s murderer. It is clear Palmer was a psychopathic sexual predator who targeted Lottie as soon as he met the Garretts.

In the novel, Lottie immediately senses something “feral” in the wiry little man, something akin to the fighting cocks he uses to lure her father into a business deal. But ­Dillard is a Bible-thumper with little understanding of real life and he’s easily taken in by Palmer’s brazen lies. Palmer grooms Lottie by sneaking her off to a cafe in Paris, Texas, and encouraging her todrink whiskey.

Her predicament is harrowing to behold as Palmer entraps and confuses her. The stories he tells Lottie about himself quickly unravel, but by then they’re all resting for a few days on his father’s run-down farm. One day Palmer and Dillard go out, leaving Lottie locked in a room, and Palmer returns alone. He persuades Lottie that Dillard has gone ahead on the road and they will catch him up. By now pregnant, she has little choice but to remain with Palmer, anxiously asking everyone she meets if they’ve seen her father.

Greaves’s descriptions of the landscape are lyrical, in contrast to Lottie’s brutal experiences, as Palmer tries his hand at stealing horses. He is a spree killer who murders for the pleasure of it, ­forcing Lottie to witness the ­killing of a local sheriff and another man before he is arrested ina stolen car. The novel displays Greaves’s deft grasp of psychology, using ­dialogue to offer a plausible explanation of why Lottie stayed with a man as cruel as Palmer. Their scenes together are impressionistic, anchored by excerpts from an (invented) transcript of Palmer’s trial. Lottie does not find out for some time that her father’s skeleton has been discovered in a cave near the Palmer farm, where it’s clear he has been decapitated — mirroring Greaves’s own experience with the Indian skulls, which may actually be relics of an Indian uprising.

After Palmer’s conviction, he spent the rest of his life in prison, where he died in 1969. It is a testament to the harshness of the period that Lottie herself, aged 15, was tried and convicted of associating with a known criminal. Despite being the victim of a paedophile, she was sent to a reformatory until her 21st birthday. Greaves’s ­fictional version of her story is a strange and unsettling read.

Bloomsbury £12.99