Slander, by William Deverell

Eight stars

William Deverell is one author whose work is not for the reader interested in superficial legal dramas. He sinks his teeth into an issue and explores it in depth, providing the reader with a thorough exploration of its foundations, as well that the characters involved. In this piece, Deverell takes the reader into Seattle, where Elizabeth Finnegan has been honing her legal skills. Her passion is women’s rights, particularly the right to choose, which has brought her much work, even in the late 1990s. When Judge Hugh Vandergraaf issues a slap on the wrist sentence to someone before him for rape, Finnegan cannot help but cry ‘old boys club’. This earns her much ire from Vandergraaf and fifteen minutes of media attention. While she is not one to reject some free publicity, she does not want to be chastised by any judge with whom she may have to work later in her career. When Elizabeth is approached by a woman who accuses Vandergraaf of rape, she cannot help but jump to offer her services. Might this judge be as horrid as the men he lets off with tepid punishment? The greatest issue is that the assault was twenty-seven years ago, meaning the statute of limitations has long since expired. This shoes not stop Elizabeth from piecing together a case and a handful of others who speak to Vandergraaf’s sexual proclivities while a university student. In what might be a saving grace, the assault happened in Canada, so the rape change could see a courtroom. As the novel progresses, Vandergraaf has chosen to take Elizabeth to court for slandering him about these rape allegations. It is here that the crux of the novel develops. While Elizabeth is on the hot seat, she chooses to defend herself and brings up much of the evidence that may be used in her Canadian trial, trying to pin Vandergraaf down as a sexual predator and someone who not only did rape her client, but should be held accountable. The further things go, the more trapdoors emerge, pitting Elizabeth Finnegan and Hugh Vandergraaf in one final stand-off that could ruin them both. Deverell shows why he is the master with this novel, pulling the reader in and holding their attention until the final sentence. Highly recommend for those readers who love the law but are not looking for something light and airy!

I stumbled onto Deverell’s writing last spring when I was reading his stellar 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, which has been a sensational adventure all on its own. Deverell paints his characters so vividly and keeps them developing throughout. Elizabeth Finnegan has a lot going for her as she seeks to keep women from being downtrodden in her own way. While she may have a passion for the law, she surrounds herself in a law firm with a number of men who seem not to fully comprehend equality or be in touch with empathy. With a few scandalous issues outside of work to contend with as well, Elizabeth is forced to juggle quite a bit as she seeks to keep from scorching herself while pushing back against her legal opponent, the great Judge Vandergraaf. On the other side, Vandergraaf has quite the reputation that he has kept under wraps. Said to be on a shortlist for a prominent federal court position, Vandergraaf must face his dalliances head-on as he brings suit against young Finnegan. Refusing to let his pride stand in the way, Vandergraaf issues blunt admissions, as the reader sees that he is sure he can bury this young lawyer simply because he is in a position of authority. Deverell adds an interesting diary of sorts to the end of certain chapters, where the reader sees some of the judge’s insights, which reach their climax in the closing pages of the book and provide some strong aspects to his ongoing character development. The handful of other characters offer some added flavour and help pace the story and the legal action throughout, keeping things interesting without getting too bogged down in legal minutiae. The story flows really well and keeps the reader hooked, bouncing from the legal matter at hand to some of the more vapid aspects of Finnegan’s life. Told in chapters that encapsulate an entire day, Deverell offer an interesting build-up throughout each day and the slow—or sometimes jagged—ending before hitting that reset button. This is an effective measure, as the reader is kept wondering what is to come without too many drastic cliffhangers, at least until the ending, and what a culmination it is! I am impressed yet again with William Deverell and his writing. He mixes an interesting legal matter with highly complex characters, creating a winning formula.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for another great novel. I have a pile of your work still to read and I am even more excited to get to them now!

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