About Me

My photo
Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Monday, April 6, 2020

A Case Study From the Old Man in thr Corner by Baroness Orczy

When writers dressed to impress - Baroness Orczy
Most of the stories in The Old Man in the Corner - The Teahouse Detective by Baroness Orczy involved court cases the man in the corner attended. 

There was a case of particular interest to me in the book. The Dublin Mystery involved allegations of the forgery of a will, the death of the maker of the will, Millionaire Brooks and the murder of the solicitor who prepared the will all in the same day.

Brooks had a successful “bacon curing” business in Ireland that allowed him to leave an estate of £2,500,000.

(Curious to see what £2,500,000 in 1905 would be worth today I did some internet sleuthing and found a calculator that would put the current value at £300,958,000 or $529,052,000 in Canadian dollars.) 

A lot of skulduggery can occur with such a fortune at stake.

Millionaire Brooks had two sons.

The younger, Murray, “was a refined, highly educated man, and was, moreover, the apple of his father’s eye, as he was the spoilt darling of Dublin society, good-looking, a splendid dance, and a perfect rider, he was the acknowledged ‘catch’ of the matrimonial market of Ireland …”

The older, Percival, was “good-looking, more so than his brother; he, too, rode, danced and talked well”. He had an “infatuation for Maisie Fortescue, a lady of undoubted charm but very doubtful antecedents.”

Mr. Brooks had a history of arguments with Percival over his lifestyle.

On the day of his death, Mr. Brooks, had an argument over dissolute actions. A short time later he was found with Percival. He had collapsed and his doctor pronounced the situation grave. The butler, at the request of Mr. Brooks, summoned his solicitor, Patrick Wethered. 

In the best of legal tradition to assist a client in need Mr. Wethered came at once to the residence of Mr. Brooks. I have gone to see very ill people at home about wills. Twice I have been called to hospitals to do wills for people who died that evening. 

It is a difficult time to conduct legal business. Lawyers are always concerned because the testator, the maker of the will, is making the will under the extreme pressure of it being their last living decisions.

As I would hope Mr. Wethered saw Mr. Brooks independently to do his best to ensure Mr. Brooks had testamentary capacity, that the instructions came from Mr. Brooks and that Mr. Brooks was not being unduly influenced by anyone.

In the story Mr. Wethered prepared the will, apparently at the bedside. He used a pre-printed form and entered the additional information needed for the will. I have been a lawyer long enough to have used such forms. They would normally be printed on traditional legal length - 14” - paper which would be folded so that there were 4 sides to be filled in for the will.

The butler and the head footman acted as witnesses to the new will of Mr. Brooks. I was a little surprised Mr. Wethered was not a witness. In such circumstances, I would have been a witness and had the butler as the other witness.

Prior to signing I would have gone over the terms of the will in the presence of Mr. Brooks and the witness or witnesses so that, if there were a challenge to the will, I would have  corroborating evidence that Mr. Brooks confirmed the terms were his last intentions.

That action was not taken by Mr. Wethered. Of course, had it been taken there would have been no story for there would be no mystery.

Mr. Brooks died shortly after signing and Mr. Wethered was murdered later that afternoon.

The next morning a will was found under his pillow and given to Percival who presented the will for probate. It gave him all of the estate but for a meagre allowance of £300 a year for Murray.

The previous will had bequeathed the business of Mr. Brooks to Murray with £2,000 to be paid annually to Percival from the business and the remainder of the estate to be divided equally between the sons.

There was a civil trial over the will which found forgery of the will when both witnesses to the will said the signatures upon the presented were not their own.

(Were it today there would have been experts who analyzed the handwriting to provide their opinions on whether there was forgery and potentially who had actually filled in the will and made the signatures. In the early 1900’s there were experts in handwriting analysis but I am not sure if they appeared in English courts. Then, as now, experts were not always reliable. In 1894 Alfred Dreyfus was convicted of espionage partly on the evidence of Alphonse Bertillon, a man who was allowed to give his opinions on handwriting though he was not a handwriting expert.)

A subsequent criminal trial of Percival for forgery failed when it was shown Percival had the will he presented for probate for less than half an hour before he gave it to his solicitors and that Mr. Brooks had confided to two people before he died that he had given the new will to Mr. Wethered.

Until that information appeared I was wondering why Mr. Wethered had not taken the will when he left the house. In my experience the will would return to the law office rather than be left with a desperately ill testator. Fortunately, I have never had anyone attack me while I was going back to my office carrying a newly signed will.

The solution was not difficult as I figured it out after reading all the evidence. I did think the Baroness had been a bit cute in setting up the evidence.


  1. I appreciate the insights you have into the whole issue of wills, Bill. They can be complicated, and I can imagine there are a lot of precautions (like having witnesses, etc..) that it's best to take. It sounds like a really interesting story, too.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. It is rare to need more than the actual witnesses to the will. Having more makes confidentiality more difficult. In a Saskatchewan case where the lawyer rightly feared a challenge he chose another lawyer as the second witness and videotaped the signing of the will.

  2. "Curious to see what £2,500,000 in 1905 would be worth today I did some internet sleuthing and found a calculator that would put the current value at £300,958,000"
    Allowing for circumstances, if one pund was worth 120 times as much in 1905 comared with now, so £300 would be worth £36,000 now: not a just division, not not "meagre" by most standards.

    1. Roger: Thanks for the comment. I would agree 36,000 is not "meagre". Apparently the Baroness had a different view of meagreness.

  3. Very interesting about writing wills when when a person is very close to death. That would be a very stressful time to do it.

    1. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. I once went to a seminar that was about lawyers going to hospitals to get wills prepared and signed. It is stressful.

  4. You are definitely selling this collection to me - I always love a plotline about wills....

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. I agree. There is lots of drama involved with wills. Family conflicts abound.