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Monday 6 March 2017

‘Summary Justice by John Fairfax

Published by Little Brown,
2 March 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-4087-0872-9 (HB)

Once in a while a book comes along which has BESTSELLER all over the cover in block capitals. Usually that's nothing but a sales pitch from the publisher's marketing department – but sometimes it turns into a pretty accurate reflection of what's inside.

Summary Justice is pitched as the first in a compelling series, with a major TV adaptation following hot on the heels of publication of that opener. And I have to say that if the series doesn't continue, and the TV doesn't happen, it will not only be a crying shame but also a bad decision. This legal thriller with a unique twist really does have bestseller written all over it, and would make great TV drama. Peopled with three-dimensional characters I wanted to reach out and hug or slap, written in a fluent style which carried me along into the wee small hours, and based around confident knowledge and research, it rapidly turned into one of those books I didn't want to end.

That unique twist is flagged up right from the outset: William Benson, the barrister at the centre of the story, is himself a convicted murderer. The book opens with a brief account of his conviction and arrival in prison, where he studies to become a lawyer as he serves his time. He's innocent, of course – but in another cruel twist of the British legal system, he has to admit to the crime in order to be released on licence.

And now, sixteen years after leaving the Old Bailey in a prison van, he's back in the same courtroom, as counsel for the defence in an apparently hopeless murder case with curious parallels to his own. He's aided and supported by his clerk Archie, another convicted criminal, and solicitor Tess de Vere, who has her own agenda. 

I read a lot of crime novels by authors whose work I'm unfamiliar with, but I have rarely come across one who writes with such skill and assurance. There's a new surprise in almost every chapter; I eventually stopped gasping in astonishment as one revelation followed another. The plot seems to veer in one direction then another, and questions hang in the air right to the last page. But despite the complex narrative, it all flows quite naturally.

Through it all threads Benson's own backstory. Exactly what did happen on that fateful night sixteen years ago? Can we believe Benson's version of events, or is something going on that no one is admitting to?

It all adds up to the beginning of something which has all the hallmarks of unmissable fiction. And if – no, when – it continues, I for one have no intention of missing it.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

John Fairfax is the pen name of William Brodrick who practised as a barrister before becoming a full-time novelist. Under his own name he is a previous winner of the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger Award and his first novel was a Richard and Judy selection.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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