Degrees of Guilt, by H.S. Chandler

Eight stars

Seeking another thrilling read, I turned to this piece of courtroom drama, where the case may not be what it seems, though neither are those who are adjudicating it. Maria Bloxham stands over her husband, whose skull has just been bashed in. As blood and brain matter flow onto the floor, she casually calls the police to report the incident. When they arrive, she does not deny what’s happened and makes no attempt to conceal her actions. When she learns that her husband is clinging to life, she loses her calm demeanour and pleads not guilty to the crime of attempted murder. With a trial set to begin, twelve jurors must be chosen to decide her fate, including Lottie, who has been told by her husband to find a way out of serving. Lottie is unable to do so and finds herself impaneled on the jury, ready to hear that case of the Crown vs. Bloxham. While the case progresses and the court hears of the emotional and psychological abuse Maria suffered at the hands of her husband, Lottie finds herself getting closer to one of her fellow jurors, Cameron. What begins as a simple chinwag over coffee one morning soon moves into a full-on affair, as sexual tensions mount. Lottie knows that her husband is distant and she relishes the time away from her son, but has she completely lost her morals? With some on the jury already deciding how they will vote, the mood in the jury room mounts as Lottie and Cameron continue hearing the evidence and hide their indiscretions. When the case moves into jury deliberations, something changes and Cameron makes a demand of Lottie that even she could not have foreseen. The freedom of Maria Bloxham hangs in the balance, but Lottie must also think of her own family, as well as a man she thought she knew and might even love. Chandler tells a riveting tale where guilt is present throughout, though its justification will depend on how the beholder chooses to synthesise it. A legal thriller that will leave the reader in the judgment seat. Recommended to those who love a courtroom drama that extends outside of where testimony is heard, as well as those readers who enjoy being judge and jury (though not executioner) in a modern story.

I learned of this novel by reading some of the author’s other work. HS Chandler is a popular author whose police procedurals keep my mind racing on a regular basis. In this piece, Chandler tells two parallel stories of women who seem out of their element and whose lives are controlled by men. Maria Bloxham’s life has been controlled by a man who used psychological and emotional abuse without laying a hand on her. However, has it been enough to convince the jury that her actions were those of self-defence? Meanwhile, Lottie sits on the jury to decide the fate of this woman, while finding herself in a marriage she finds less than exciting and in an sordid affair with another man who seems to be stealing all her self-control slowly, but surely. As the reader learns about both women, they can judge how justified both Lottie and Maria were in their respective situations. Other characters serve to complement these two in a courtroom thriller that moves through the various settings needed to tell the entire tale. Chandler works the angles well and keeps the reader wanting to know a little more throughout the entire two weeks the case is active. The story is strong and pulls the reader in from the outset, forcing them to pay attention so as not to miss any of the evidence that is presented. Lottie and Maria may differ greatly, but their similarities will emerge as the twists mount in this must-read novel. Proof that HS Chandler, no matter what name under which she writes, is a force to be reckoned with in the genre.

Kudos, Madam Chandler, for another stunning piece. Keep them coming and you will have a fan in me!

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