This is a long book – more than 300 pages – and having invested time in reading it, one is predisposed to want this to be well spent. The protagonist rivals Morse, Tennison or Sherlock in having unexpected characteristics that draws you in. A defence barrister, who has himself served a term of imprisonment, he presents as a flawed hero and is the underdog the reader is silently rooting for. Following in the best traditions of crime drama, clues, the characters’ background and histories are revealed bit by bit to form a veritable jigsaw.
Optioned for television, it is easy to see how this beautifully written book by William Brodrick (who practised as a barrister before writing full time; Fairfax is his pen name), would transfer to screen sympathetically. There is vivid imagery to exploit; houseboats, East End gangsters, organised-crime lords, dark alleys, sudden deaths and fishermen all feature. With political strands being interwoven into the topic of law, different social classes, and an unspoken commentary thereof featuring, it ticked all the boxes one has come to expect with this type of novel.
However, it also appeared to be something of a Harry Potter novel; the multiple strands and little details – which one felt sure should amount to a startling revelation – are never fully explored. I would not be surprised that this second book featuring the double act of De Vere (solicitor) and Benson (counsel), will be followed by a third, and possibly more books, with additional disclosures. Ultimately, I was left slightly annoyed and cheated that some of the detail of the clever plot was not well explained. I still do not understand the significance of an infamous cigarette butt (on which much turns inexplicably), despite going back to see if I have missed something! That said, when the next book comes out, will I read it? Just try and stop me. And when this is on television, I may shout at the screen occasionally – but I will enjoy doing so.
Reviewer: Melissa Coutinho