John Fairfax has an established writing career (and awards to show for it) under his given name, but has turned to a nom de plume to dazzle readers with this legal thriller, full of twists. William Benson has had an interesting life to say the least. Charged with a murder he denies committing as a young man, Benson held firm that he was innocent, going so far as to profess it to a young Tess de Vere, attending the trial to see all the action. After being sentenced, Benson kept his head down in prison, eventually offering a confession to the crime and being paroled from his life sentence. While many men would have turned to a darker side, Benson chose to hone his skills and read law, earning his degree. After a few years of taking the legal scraps that were being offered, he has the chance to open his own shop, even though many still vilified him for his crimes. Knowing all the legal loopholes, Benson was aware that his criminal record would not preclude him from being called to the Bar, even if many in the profession sought to block him. When a woman approached him to represent her in a murder, Benson expressed shock, yet was prepared to do his best. In what can only be deemed a chance encounter, Tess de Vere re-emerged after some legal dealings in France and agreed to serve as his supervising solicitor. Together, they took Sarah Collingstone’s case to trial, a woman accused of stabbing a man to death with a broken bottle. While Collingstone refused to deny the evidence against her, she professed that she had done nothing wrong. As the trial continued and Benson was faced with continued adversity—both for his past crime and the evidence the prosecution had against Collingstone—he saw a great deal of himself in his client, someone who was about to be devour by the court system. While the facts as presented may have been stacking up, Benson could only hope Lady Justice would look out for an innocent person. A fabulously crafted legal thriller that will keep the reader wondering about many of the storylines. Perfect for those who love a paced novel that does not skimp on thought-provoking moments.
Having never read John Fairfax, I was not sure what to expect with this piece, but am pleased that I took the plunge. He has a wonderful way of laying out the scene and offering enough detail to pull the reader into the mix, without drowning them. The important aspect of Benson’s past is not left to short snippets of backstory, but is developed throughout, in the preface and peppered in the early parts of each section of the book. The protagonists have their own stories, which propel the larger narrative forward, though it leaves the reader wanting more, particularly about Tess de Vere, who has returned to London from some international legal matters in Strasbourg, though little seems to have been revealed throughout the early narrative. Fairfax does a wonderful job at developing a multi-faceted William Benson, pulling on his vulnerabilities but also his strength and seeking justice for a woman who has little hope of acquittal. This tug on the reader’s heartstrings works well without getting sappy or drawn out. Fairfax is also stellar in his development of the case, both inside the courtroom with wonderful testimony and outside as Benson tries to find an out. The revelations that come up during the trial are wonderful twists and turn the reader to wondering how innocent Sarah Collingstone just might be. I was pleased to see there will be a second novel in the series and can only hope the momentum developed here lasts with the follow-up publication.
Kudos, Mr. Fairfax, for a wonderful story that kept me wanting more. I can see how you were awarded literary prizes and hope others discover your work in the near future
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons