Oct 26, 2021
" I strongly recommend you give this gem of a book the attention it deserves."
Stockton Heath has evidently spent a great deal of time researching the case of John Cartland, murdered while on a business trip in the south of France with his son Jeremy. In his true crime book Imagining A Murder Stockton Heath does his best to untangle the complex web of events which ended up developing around a case which, contrary to initial impressions, proved to be anything but simple and straightforward.
Despite the immense progress made in all the fields surrounding murder investigations, plenty of culprits have still managed to elude justice over the past few decades. Many such cases fly under the radar, but the murder of John Cartland in March 1973 was an affair which made waves and headlines all over Europe years after it happened. In his true crime book Imagining A Murder, Stockton Heath does his best to present the whole affair in as factual and neutral way as possible, hoping to shed a bit of clarity on a case pregnant with unanswered questions.
For the most part, the book is presented in the form of a narrative, with occasional comments thrown in by the author, largely revolving around the veracity of certain claims and supposed facts. Starting at the fateful night when passers-by on the RN (Route Nationale) 572 in the South of France saw a burning caravan not far from the road, and an injured man covered in blood looking for help.
Though the location was a relatively remote one, the sight attracted more than a few people willing to help, and as it turned out later, quite a few witnesses whose testimonies would play a vital role in the case to come. The injured man in question was English citizen Jeremy Cartland, son of John Cartland, and claimed to have been knocked unconscious and woken up to his caravan on fire.
After a bit of searching, his John Cartland‘s body was found in a bush not far from the caravan, brutally murdered with multiple weapons, which were soon found within fifty meters of the crime scene. At the onset the investigators treated Jeremy as the primary witness to a horrible crime which echoed the massacre of the Drummonds some twenty years earlier.
It didn’t take long for unanswered questions and inconsistencies to arise in Jeremy‘s account of that evening, leading French investigators to look at him as a suspect more than anything else. This marked the beginning of Jeremy’s long fight against the French judicial system as well as public perception, continuously complicating and entangling an affair which, at the onset, seemed like the most banal case of patricide.
An Unbiased Perspective in Imagining A Murder
Prior to reading this book I had no familiarity whatsoever with the case of John and Jeremy Cartland, and from my cursory research on the topic, most people seemed to be in the same position as me. Many of the modern texts covering the case use as a primary reference The Cartland File written by Jeremy himself, making their accuracy feel a little dubious, to say the least.
In Imagining A Murder, Stockton Heath uses fourteen different references (Jeremy‘s autobiographical work among them) and always maintains a very even tone which prompts the reader to draw their own conclusions based on the evidence in front of them. In other words, while the author did obviously have some subjective feelings about the case and those involved, I think it’s quite obvious he managed to set them aside like a true professional to explore it all through the scope of facts and logic.
The amount of times the author refers to one source or another showed, to me at least, how much effort he put into studying the case from all possible angles, exploring every available theory for who might have committed the murder, from Jeremy himself to random car thieves and even political assassins. No matter how ridiculous the theory, he gives it fair consideration by seeing how it stacks up against the facts of the case… even if it is easily dismissible.
The sheer amount of information we are imparted over the course of the book is quite astonishing, with even the smallest details being accorded significance in hopes of shedding just a bit more light on a case whose complexity only increases. At the end of the book, the author does share his own personal interpretation on the culmination of his research, so we aren’t simply left to our own devices with all the known facts at our disposal.
Naturally, in line with his approach throughout the rest of the book, he doesn’t seek to shove his perspective down our throats, but rather offers his interpretation and pushes us to seek our own conclusions while being quite careful about who to trust.
There is one specific point on which I would like to commend Stockton Heath on, and it’s his ability to present the story in a way which makes it easy to follow from a reader’s perspective. Without giving too much away, it’s a case with plenty of moving parts, witnesses, conflicting statements and political considerations; it would have been quite easy to get lost had the author not managed to create such a solid and straightforward structure of the narration.
The Thrill of Solving a Puzzle
I mentioned at the beginning of the first segment how Imagining A Murder is told in the form of a narrative, and I would even go as far saying it felt like I was reading a murder mystery. It unfolds before our eyes in chronological order, and we learn the facts of the case as the French investigators discover and establish them.
In other words, Stockton Heath takes us along for the ride to see how the events were unfolding from the perspective of someone observing the case as news of it was taking the continent by storm. Though much time is dedicated to the work of the investigators, the author also takes the time to have a look at the other actors in the story, most notably the Cartland family and their lawyers.
Stockton Heath did his research in this regard as well, offering in-depth descriptions of the family members and the dynamics which reigned between them, all with the purpose of giving the case just a bit more clarity. I think he did a great job in reminding us we were dealing with the life stories of real people and not just characters in a theatre play; whatever their actions and motivations might have been, they had a palpable weight and consequence in the real world.
Some of the secondary actors in the story, such as various witnesses who only made minor contributions to the investigation, are understandably explored in a more shallow capacity. However, even then, Stockton Heath does his due diligence and gives us a bit of background information whenever possible.
If there was one word with which I had to describe the experience of following the case from start to finish, it would be “thrilling”. The author manages to make it feel like an actual roller-coaster ride for all parties involved, and I could hardly resist the urge to jump ahead and see if my personal theories corresponded with the case’s resolution.
I did say at the start this was the type of case rife with unanswered questions, and even though the official verdict was a little more than lacking, I think there is enough information available for us to solve the case and identify a culprit. Personally, I completely agree with the author’s assessment of Jeremy being by far the likeliest suspect, but this is only my conclusion; I urge you to draw your own.
The Final Verdict
Imagining A Murder by Stockton Heath is everything a true crime book ought to be. The case is complex with its fair share of mystery, its main participants are quite notable in their own ways, there is plenty of factual information to be found, and it’s all told almost like a thriller.
If you enjoy complicated murder cases, or are looking for a reasonable and unbiased perspective on the slaying of John Cartland and the hurricane of questions surrounding the event which shook France and England 1973, then I strongly recommend you give this gem of a book the attention it deserves.
To read the full review: