The Dance of Shiva, by William Deverell

Nine stars

There are few who can weave a gripping legal and courtroom drama into a single novel and fewer still who can do so in a Canadian setting. William Deverell is one such man whose novels not only touch on the core of the Canadian legal system, but also inject social and political aspects that are unique to this great country. Maximilian ‘Max’ Macarthur is a young lawyer who has lived in his father’s legal shadow all his professional life. Working inside the Vancouver courtrooms in the mid-1980s, Macarthur seeks to push speech and expression rights to their limits under the new Charter. When he is approached by legal giant Arthur Beauchamp to second chair a highly-politicised murder trial, Macarthur jumps at the opportunity, hoping for some significant tutelage. Their client, Shiva Ram Acharya, was found at his commune, surrounded by his followers, most of whom had recently been slain by gunshots. Shiva is said to have been inviting his followers to die and attain some higher understanding. With fingerprint and eyewitness evidence stacked against Shiva, it would seem this is a slam dunk case. However, Macarthur is not ready to let the facts speak for themselves and makes a trip to the crime scene, where something comes to light and an alternate suspect may have been overlooked. Communicating with Beauchamp, Macarthur seeks to bring this information before the jury, even as the Crown is closely supported by a judge who has little use for the antics the defense has brought into the courtroom. Beauchamp is a masterful courtroom player and has the jury eating out of his hands while Crown witnesses are pulverised before they know what’s going on. When a freak accident sees Beauchamp out of commission, all eyes turn to Macarthur to take over and win the case for Shiva, who remains stoically silent, sputtering inane transcendental positions to his counsel at the least opportune moment. All the while, Macarthur is trying to keep his personal life from exploding and his firm from bursting at the seams in this entertaining legal piece. Highly recommended for those who love a legal thriller that is a little more ‘intellectual’ than those on the market, as well as readers who are familiar (and enjoy) Deverell’s work.

I stumbled onto Deverell’s writing last spring when I was reading the—of all things—Arthur Beauchamp series. While it took a while to get acclimated, the series grew on me and by the end I know I would have to try some of the author’s one-off work. Deverell does well to paint his characters in such a way that the reader cannot help but love them, or want to know more. Max Macarthur may be a newer attorney (five years since his call to the Bar), but he is energetic and has a strong inclination towards defending his clients. Juggling a troublesome attempt to keep his personal relationship on track as he seeks justices, Macarthur is a man many readers may admire, though he has little time for praise. The master, Arthur Beauchamp, is as exciting as he was in his own series. The reader will love (or hate) his incessant use of Latin to get the point across, drowning those around him with legalese and seemingly non-sensical blather to sting them. While Beauchamp has a seductive mistress in the form of alcohol, he is usually ready to slay the Crown witnesses at the drop of a hat. Many of the other characters who find a home on the pages of this book help to solidify the legal and courtroom aspects of the narrative, moving things along effectively. With a true Canadian flavour, both the legal proceedings and the indigenous witnesses provide something that few unfamiliar with the Great White North would effectively understand, though the story is not lost on the non-Canadian (or younger) reader, as the narrative is that well developed. Deverell’s masterful work at pacing the narrative while instilling a better understanding of legal and social issues is to be applauded, as well as trying to handle cults in a way that leaves the pejorative at the door. Balancing an interesting legal matter with highly complex characters, Deverell has penned a winner that I hope many explore at their leisure.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for another stunning novel. I am so pleased to have been able to get my hands on some of your non-series novels. Bring them on!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: