Dick Kirby, Missing, Presumed Murdered (Pen & Sword, 2022)
There is a common misconception that there needs to be a body before someone can be convicted of murder. That is not the case as the murderers described in Dick Kirby’s new book found out to their cost.
This lopsided book features six murder convictions where a body, or bodies, were never found. Five are given single chapters, including the infamous acid bath murderer, John George Haigh. The sixth case is a lengthy exposition of the kidnapping of Muriel McKay, covering multiple chapters and forming the bulk of the book. The cases are described from the event through the trial and sometimes beyond. It isn’t clear, however, why Kirby chose to add the shorter cases, particularly Haigh’s, which has been well-covered before by other crime historians. The McKay case was surely strong enough to carry an entire book?
It is how these cases are narrated that catches the reader’s notice – his style is marmite; you’ll enjoy it, or you won’t. Kirby clearly has significant insight into investigations, being a former police officer himself, and his no-nonsense style will appeal to some readers. When he finds the police wanting, for example, he lets you know it in no uncertain terms. But too often, Kirby tips his criticism over into unnecessary vitriol. His comment on an unknown public official as a ‘pasty-faced little twerp’ is uncalled for, and the characterisation of a man he calls ‘gay as a fruit bat’ is just offensive and should never have made it past the copy editor. If you can put those things aside, then true-crime readers will probably enjoy this book.