In the late afternoon of 14 May 1752 a single shot rang out on an Appin hillside above the mouth of Loch Leven. The unhappy target of this fatal shot was Red Colin Campbell of Glenure, manager of the Hanoverian government's estates in the area. What became known as the Appin Murder resulted in one of the most famous miscarriages of justice in Scottish history when an innocent man, James Stewart or James of the Glen, was convicted of being an accomplice to the murder and hanged.
The Appin Murder achieved widespread fame when it became a key incident in the plot of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Kidnapped (and the subsequent miscarriage of justice was the backdrop to the sequel, Catriona), though Stevenson moved the murder back in time to July 1751 to fit with his story.
Seamus Carney's "The Appin Murder" was first published in 1989, and remains the definitive study of the murder; of the investigation into it; of the legal proceedings which followed; and of what many consider to be the judicial murder of James Stewart for a crime he did not commit. Seamus Carney's research took him back to every surviving piece of paper that could be traced in official and semi official archives, and in family papers from the time. His approach is detailed and meticulous, and readers will be grateful for the list of key characters which features at the beginning of the book.
In following the course of the investigation and trial he shows how the defence fought an ultimately losing battle dogged by prejudice, injustice and sheer bad luck: even the loss of 11 days from September 1752 because of the transfer to the Gregorian calendar deprived them of much needed time. What Seamus Carney does not do is solve the murder. For James Stewart to have been guilty he would have had to be a knowing accomplice to the man who pulled the trigger, who the prosecution believed to be his foster-son Allan Breck Stewart (of Kidnapped fame). The evidence against Allan Breck (who disappeared after the murder) was extensive but circumstantial, and as Carney shows in his conclusion, there were others who could just as easily have been the murderer. And as he shows throughout the book, hard evidence that James Stewart really was an accomplice was very slight indeed.