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Sunday 10 August 2014

‘Defending Elton’ by T J Cooke

 Published by KDP.
19 Mar 2013.
ISBN: 978-1482751802

Elton Spears is a learning disabled young man with a very tenuous grasp on reality and little ability to fend for himself. It is not surprising that Elton has a long history of falling foul of the legal system. Jim Harwood is the solicitor who has defended Elton since his first arrest for stealing a box of giant Christmas crackers from Woolworths. However, this time, when Jim is summoned to represent Elton, it is very different and far more serious. Elton is accused of murdering a beautiful young woman whose body was thrown from the cliffs at Beachy Head. As Jim, the narrator of the story explains at the beginning of the story, he knows that Elton is innocent because it was Jim who killed the enigmatic young woman who had been his secret lover and then framed his vulnerable client for the crime.

However, just when the reader thinks they have discovered the ultimate anti-hero, Jim employs the best barrister he can to represent Elton, in the hope that he will be acquitted.

The story is told in alternating chapters. The present day chapters tell the story of the lead up to the trial and the trial itself; the back story chapters describe Jim's traumatic childhood and the strange, obsessive relationship with the young woman whom he knows as Sarena, a relationship that spirals into fatal violence.
Defending Elton is a fascinating, psychological crime novel, filled with moral ambiguity. It is impossible to condone Jim's actions but, as the story progresses, it is easy to understand why he has done it. Jim is the classic example of a person who has taken one false step and then another until he finds himself unable to go back. This empathy is strengthened by Jim's own loathing of what he has done. He spends his time divided between the desire to tell the truth and exonerate Elton and fear that the excellent barrister he has instructed will discover the truth behind Sarena's death. As the case progresses, Jim's fragile mental health crumbles under his guilt and stress.

The details of English legal procedure are expertly portrayed, as are its shortcomings. It is also a cutting indictment of the way society, the health and social services, and the legal system mistreat those with mental health or learning difficulties.

Defending Elton is a cleverly written and compelling book. I would recommend it as an exciting, challenging read, with a unique approach and all too human characters.
Reviewer:  Carol Westron

T J Cooke, otherwise known as Tim, was formerly a legal executive and adviser to the BBC’s Eastenders. Since then he has dovetailed his career between advertising copywriting, freelance journalism, screenwriting and novels.  Tim has written numerous television and radio commercials for a variety of well known companies. He has written many hours of broadcast drama, notching up writing credits for some of UK’s most popular series, including London’s Burning, The Bill  and Bad Girls.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her second book About the Children was published in May 2014.

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