Most of us have different sides to our personalities but none, surely, quite as extreme as the subject of this fascinating book: The Man Who Was Jekyll and Hyde: The Lives and Crimes of Deacon Brodie, byÂ Edinburgh-based author, Rick Wilson. Â The book skilfully follows the twists and turns of Brodie’s life, alternating between respectability on the one hand and evil crime on the other.
The title gives no real clue about the true personality of the book, whichÂ tells the reader in chilling detail about Brodie, who was a highly respected cabinetmaker and Councillor by day and reputation. However, at night he became a monster preying, with his ‘gang’ as a thief in the old town of the city of Edinburgh. Â Another trick Brodie played with great success was to ingratiate himself with the richest and most influentialÂ members of Edinburgh Society, then robbing them dressed as a masked burglar. With the money he obtained Brodie funded a second life, involving five children and two mistresses.
Wilson marks 5 March 1788 as the date on which Brodie’s final destiny with fate began. He had thought he could cheat the people, justice and even death by robbing the Excise office to fund his projected new life. Still this proved profoundly disappointing as the amount of money stolen for which his gang risked their lives turn out to be only Â£16 as they failed to find the Â£600 hidden in a drawer.
Brodie was eventually found out when an accomplice informed on him. He tried to flee the country to start a new life abroad but was blocked and let down at every turn despite using a number of aliases and attempting to use his legendary charm to buy the assistance of others whom he met on the way. After variousÂ convoluted attempts to get away to America he was finally caught and returned to Scotland where he and his chief accomplice, George Smith, faced trial. They were convicted and sentenced to hang.
There is still a theory propounded by Robert Chalmers in his book ‘Traditions of Edinburgh’ ofÂ an complexÂ plot, arranged with the executioner, to construct an elaborate device hidden below the neck to prevent the noose from doing its final job. This was never proved one way or another but Rick Wilson’s vivid account of the life and times of Deacon Brodie still keeps the final mystery alive!
It is believed Brodie’s terribleÂ story inspired the great writer, Robert Louis Stevenson to create the classic tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde a century later.
This is a very well-written and fascinating book which has been exceedingly and deeply researched.
The book is published by The History Press in paperback and costs Â£12.99 – in my view well-worth it.