Book Review: Who Shot Percy Toplis? by Jim Cox

Percy Toplis – the infamous ‘monocled Mutineer’

Who Shot Percy Toplis? by Jim Cox

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s not often I get to review a book from an author local to me, let alone a book set in a place I know quite well. Jim Cox’s new book looking at the true story of the infamous ‘Monocled Mutineer’ is a delight (if that’s not inappropriate for a book largely concerned with a murderer being shot dead) for managing both.

If you’re ‘of a certain age’ like me, you’ll remember Percy Toplis as the heroic and anarchic ‘Monocled Mutineer’ played by Paul McGann from the BBC series in the mid-1980s. According to Dr Cox this series was based on a book which was a ‘mixture of fact and fiction’. He goes into great detail to put the record straight, de-glamourising Toplis’ exploits and presenting the evidence for his somewhat ugly and murderous intentions whilst on the run. The army man-gone-AWOL, it turns out, was disappointingly unlike the character portrayed in the TV series and was little more than a crook and a thug.

Nevertheless, the murder of a taxi driver and wounding of a policeman made him briefly England’s most wanted man and the inevitable conclusion occurred in June 1920 in Penrith, just down the road (in Cumbrian terms) from where I live.

As the title suggests, ‘Who Shot Percy Toplis?’ largely deals with the details of what happened that day and with whom, eventually getting down to the autopsy evidence to conclude whether the ‘official’ version of events was the truth or if the locally well-known version was the actual truth. You’ll have to read the book to find out, but the fact that the author is a doctor, now in retirement, means that his argument (based from medical records) is very convincing.

The book isn’t the best-written historical piece I’ve ever seen. At times it reads as a collection of notes detailing the chronological order of things almost down to a tedious level. Nevertheless, it is short and surprisingly lively – certainly one that Cumbrian history buffs will enjoy let alone mystery enthusiasts – and I enjoyed it overall. I’m pleased to have returned to this curious character after so many decades and Dr Cox has most definitely made my frequent car journeys to Penrith more interesting than they were!

View all my reviews

Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out soon – don’t miss them!

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at

Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways,  and currently reviews for Lancashire Life magazine.


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