Street Legal: The Betrayal, by William Deverell

Eight stars

William Deverell is one author who is able to take the nuances of the Canadian legal system and put them into a well-developed piece that anyone can enjoy. I have read some of his stunning works and while this was not as powerful for me, I can see some of his wonderful style seeping from each page. Back in 1980, young lawyers Carrie Barr, Leon Rubinovitch, and Chuck Tchobanian were making names for themselves within Toronto’s legal community. After a man is charged with being the Midnight Strangler—raping and murdering women around the city—Barr is able to get him off on a technicality. While she’s flying high on this moral victory, she must come to terms with her philandering husband, who cannot seem to see what he is tossing away. After removing Ted Barr from their legal enterprise, these three young lawyers seek to make it on their own, armed with significant legal matters that find their way woven into the narrative of the book. Barr takes on defending a man whose ties to the criminal underworld and narcotics leave her wondering if she might have grasped for the first thing that came across her line of sight. She cannot help but hope that she will find something to help the situation before she is left with a bullet in her own head. Tchobanian is trying to push the limits of free speech in a pre-Charter Canada, with a client pushing pornographic novels who’s been threatened with numerous criminal charges. Perhaps most interesting of all is Rubinovitch’s work trying to defend a man who is peddling hate literature and trying to sell the world on the conniving nature of the Jewish population. All this, while more women are being murdered on the streets of Toronto, likely at the hands of the Midnight Strangler. What’s to be done and how will these young lawyers show that they belong in the cutthroat world of criminal law? Deverell does a wonderful job showcasing these young characters in a novel that was written to play the role of prologue to a highly successful legal drama on Canadian television in the 1980s. Recommended for those who like a darker legal novel with all the nuances of the Canadian system.

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. Deverell paints his characters in such a way that the reader wants to love them, or at least get to know them before hating them outright. The three core lawyers in this novel all bring unique attributes to the table, but I do not feel as though Deverell sought to focus his attention on any one of them. There is the banter that Carrie has with her husband, while also delicately handling a client who has such strong ties to the underworld that she cannot make a single mistake. Chuck seeks to find that loophole in the Bill of Rights legislation to allow free speech in an era where constitutionally entrenched rights are still two years away. Leon seeks to hold his nose and hope his anti-Semitic client does not ruin things before they can find a way around some of this disturbing hate literature is read in open court. All three provide much entertainment and education for the attentive reader. The secondary characters fill the gaps these three leave, if only to push the narrative along in an interesting fashion. From quirky judges to members of the police community who feel that they are above the law, through to the criminal element demanding not only a day in court, but also that they be allowed to continue their lifestyles, characters fill the pages and Deverell shapes them all to be curious individuals. With a true Canadian flavour throughout the narrative, one can only presume that this novel serves to introduce the reader to the central characters in Street Legal, the television series Deverell wrote for CBC back in the 80s, which I vaguely remember seeing in the television listings as a youth. I did not watch it, but can only imagine how compelling it would have been, based on the intricacies that Deverell puts into his books. Deverell does great work pacing the narrative while educating the reader of the legal and social issues prevalent in Canada at the time. Balancing an interesting legal matter with highly complex characters, Deverell has penned a winner.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for a great novel. I am so pleased to get my mind working as I digest these Canadian legal thrillers!

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