I guess it's late enoough on the 19th to post my review; warning, it does contain spoilers. If some parts seem a little odd, it's because they originated in the questions on Paging All Bookworms, which read this last month.
A novel based on the true story of George Edalji, a solicitor of Parsee ancestry in rural England who is falsely accused of mutilating horses, and author Arthur Conan Doyle, who supports his defense. The book deals with George and Arthur (and an occasional minor character) in alternating chapters. The story of George was fascinating; the chapters devoted to Arthur alone did not interest me so much.
Clearly, the two men had contrasting and somewhat complementary characters. George, from a poor and strictly religious upbringing and a legal training, was very empirical, stuck to facts, took a realistic view of his situation and refused to take the easy and obvious route of seeing himself as a martyr to race prejudice, even though this was obviously a major factor; he was scrupulously fair in refusing to make negative assumptions about other people's characters without strong evidence. This is one of the things I admired about him.
Arthur, on the other hand, did not particularly impress me. Obviously of great intelligence and "imagination", raised in the upper middle class, in outlook if not at first in wealth, his instincts were on the right side but he also tended to believe in his own fantasies (most notably with regard to his wives, and in his commitment to spiritualism.) He struck me as being somewhat self-centered and complacent, vain about his ancestry and his athletic talents; his outrage at the treatment of George was real, but also had a certain element of consciously playing the part of the white knight.
I'm not sure it is fair to accuse the Edaljis of ignoring race prejudice; I think that like many immigrants they had a rosy-colored view of their adopted country and its institutions. I've found personally that immigrants I've talked to (unless they were already radicals in their own country) are generally far less apt to see the problems in American society than native born Americans, far more likely to defend institutions and accept "patriotic" cliches as reality. I think George and his father really believed that with hard work they could "fit in" and be accepted as English. The father's exhortation to George to remember the Parsee MP is an example. They knew there were racists among the ignorant, but they didn't want to believe that it was possible for the educated and upper class English.
In any case, I think George's friend Harry is right that much of the dislike of George is not because of his race but because of his intelligence, his commitment to study, his disapproval of his schoolmate's low amusements and refusal to drink, smoke, etc., his non-participation in sports. . . He is disliked as much or more as a "geek" as he is as an Indian. Schools haven't changed much since then.
I think it is all too common for the police to avoid effort and get "results" by seizing on the first unpopular minority suspect -- especially if they can accuse someone they already have it in for -- and refusing to admit any error; the Dreyfuss affair was an obvious forerunner but here again not as much has changed as we might wish to believe. The public is all too willing to consider that anyone who is accused must be guilty, and even when they are acquitted many are certain that they just "got away with it" because of "bleeding heart liberals" "hamstringing the police" etc. etc. This myth is constantly pushed by the conservative media and so many "entertainment" novels, films and TV series. (They're only called "propaganda" if they're written in Russian.) The conventional detective story creates the idea that the only way to really prove anyone innocent is for their lawyer (all Perry Masons) to find the "real" criminal. Of course, this almost never happens. The press was active in defending George, as well as attacking him -- but I suspect it wasn't the same press. The Umpire and Truth were obviously not popular tabloids.
I think that the reasons why Sgt. Upton and the police had it in for George from the incident of the key is never really explained, and probably will never be known. I kept expecting it to turn out that he was the lover or cousin of Elizabeth Foster. If this were a totally fictional story, I would have criticized it for leaving too many "loose threads" unexplained. But then, a postmodernist author might do this deliberately as well, as being more the way things really happen -- there are no "narratives" in reality, only in our books.
George is realistic also in understanding that being cleared even in the contradictory way he was was all he could expect. It always angers me that the government -- any government -- can commit injustices, and when the victims are liberated without any compensation or even apology, or declared innocent fifty years after they die, everyone claims that justice has triumphed and that this proves the system works, we live in a democracy under law, and so on ad nauseam. (Has anyone read Zeitoun recently?)
My opinion: this was a good book, a good story well told, with some point; but uneven, especially in the chapters about Arthur Conan Doyle.
To add some comments on Marguerite's questions: I liked the parts on George better than the ones on Arthur; perhaps because I've never been a real fan of Sherlock Holmes, but he just didn't seem that interesting a character to me. I thought it was a little jumpy at the beginning, but I thought toward the end it could have used more frequent breaks. I liked the scene at the funeral, because it put the differences between the characters in such relief, and also showed the credulity of the public, which was so much of the problem for George.