Anatomy of a Murder is an unconventional mystery
that is a crime drama at the same time. Early on one knows who the
culprit it, but the novel never loses interest. It is more about the
process of bringing a case to trial and the proceedings of that trial
than detective work. Early on a lieutenant Manion is arrested for
murder. He is jealous of beautiful life who seeks solace from others
because she has a bleak existence. Manion murders Barney Quill, an
owner of a bar, who rapes his wife. He feels that he is justified by
his actions. The man raped his wife so he has the right to kill him.
This is in disagreement with the law. If Manion actually caught Quill
raping his wife, he would be justified by his actions, but the fact
that he found out after the fact makes him liable for what he did.
There is a conflict here between what is legal and what Manion feels is
morall. Since Manion’s defense would not stand in court, he thinks of
another one. He decides to plead to insanity claiming he was
temporarily insane during those events. He was probably not insane, but
is able to create an impression that he was. By this time in the book
one knows what happens. There is no doubt about who the criminal is.
What is interesting is how the defense manages to prove Manion’s
insanity. Another thing that the defense does is create an unpleasant
depiction of Barney Quill. He was jealous that an army base was being
built in his town and the army was slowly taking over his business.
Also, he is a tough reckless man who owns a large collection of guns.
He is very threatening and others fear him. The fact that he is such an
unsympathetic figure helps the defense. Eventually the defense is able
to find a psychologist to support that Manion was insane. They face a
tough fight against the prosecution, who builds a great case. In the
end Manion is acquitted. It could be because the jury actually thought
he was insane or maybe because they felt he was justified by his
actions or that Quill was an unpleasant person who deserved what he
got. What makes this novel really fascinating is its detailed and
intriguing portrayal of the criminal justice system at work.