Taking the reader on a heart-wrenching journey, William Deverell presents his fifth novel in the Arthur Beauchamp series and shows his literary brilliance throughout. With the recent release of Beauchamp’s biography, A Thirst for Justice, much has been made of the eminent lawyer’s first murder case in 1962. This becomes the premise for the story, as the reader is pulled back almost five decades to a point when Arthur Beauchamp was still extremely wet behind the ears. Handed the defence of Gabriel Swift, who was accused of murdering Professor Dermot Mulligan, Beauchamp is forced to swallow his pride and gut feelings. It appears that Prof. Mulligan was not only an acquaintance of Beauchamp’s, but his thesis advisor before the law became a more alluring mistress. Swift denies having anything to do with Mulligan’s murder, though does admit that he was employed to tend to the yard and did see him on the day of the alleged crime. With no body having ever turned up, Swift (and Beauchamp) cannot see how this sham of a charge can stick, even with a jailhouse snitch swearing he heard an out-and-out admission one night. An outspoken man with strong ties to his Native roots, Swift turns his attention to shining the spotlight on the disparity that has befallen his people at the time when the law and authorities would not only ignore their pleas, but intentionally twist the facts to convict and incarcerate Native Canadians. Working with what he has, a large pile of circumstantial evidence, Beauchamp tries to navigate his way through preparing for trial and the actual legal presentation of facts, only to hit the same wall. Pitted against a legal legend, Beauchamp cannot even use the confidence his second chair exudes to remain firmly committed to seeing the trial through and seeks to convince his client to take a plea, rather than face capital murder charges and hang for his alleged crime. Through a series of influential conversations with others, Swift takes the plea, but refuses to speak to the details of the crime, still holding firm that he is innocent. It is actually the release of the biography in 2011 by Wentworth Chance (series readers will remember him from an earlier novel) that lit a fire under Beauchamp to re-examine the evidence and to probe deeper into the crime, examining the life of Mulligan all the closer. With his wife busy in Ottawa and his friends on Garibaldi Island engrossed in some of these early stories about their favoured son, Beauchamp puts all his efforts into overturning the guilty verdict through the Court of Appeal. However, with so much time having passed and Swift in hiding in South America after an escape, is there any point? Deverell stuns the reader with raw truths and suppositions from the early 60s while portraying Beauchamp as a younger and more scandalous version of the man who has spoken frankly about his legal past. Not to be missed by series fans or anyone with a passion for Canadian political or legal history.
By now, the series reader has a firm understanding of Arthur Beauchamp and all he has done in his career, or so we are led to believe. Deverell’s thorough narratives in the past novels have brought out many of the praiseworthy and horrid pieces of his protagonist, but nothing will prepare the reader for what is inside the covers of this book. Beauchamp is young and naive throughout the novel’s flashback scenes, knowing little about murder, defending an outspoken client, or the struggles of Natives at a time when racism was rampant and accepted in this peaceful country. However, pairing that with his oft-hinted at obsession with drink and the reader can see the early foundations of a long career mired in booze to act as a crutch for a hard day’s work. By also pulling on a minor storyline about his parents, Beauchamp is forced to drag himself from under their smothering and critical ways, only to invent himself at a time when he is still highly impressionable. Deverell also layers much in this story, from the biography, two time periods, contentious murder trial, and in-depth discussion of Native residential schools, it is no wonder that the reader must pace themselves through this literary journey. I will not delve into these areas, for it is the reader’s chance to experience it for themselves and pass their own verdict on how things happened during those times mentioned throughout the novel. I cannot, however, stand here and not comment on how seamlessly the entire delivery ended up being, mixing excerpts from Chance’s own biographical piece with a narrative of the actual events leading up to the trial and then the ‘current day’ happenings as Beauchamp seeks to fix his most serious (known) legal gaffe. Brilliantly portrayed and sure to bring about much discussion amongst those who take the time to read this book. I can only hope that others enjoy this novel as much as I did.
Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for not shying away from the deep and dark areas of the legal and political past for which Canada cannot hide their blemishes. You have captivated me with all your work and this might just be the best one yet.