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Saturday 14 October 2017

‘The Pinocchio Brief’ by Abi Silver

Published by Lightning Books,
20 July 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-78563-044-6 (PB)

Raymond Maynard, a fifteen-year-old schoolboy, is charged with the murder of one of his schoolteachers at the private boys’ school which he attends. His mother, distressed at the lack of interest expressed by the appointed state solicitor, seeks the help of young solicitor Constance Lamb. Constance, having interviewed Raymond, believes he is innocent although the boy refused to speak: strange, yes, but not violent. Because the charge is so serious he must be represented in court by an experienced and highly effective barrister, so Constance chooses Judith Burton although Judith had retired from practice some years ago. Judith agrees to take the case on. The first thing that Judith does is to go to the school and look at the murder scene herself and talk to the staff, particularly the school secretary who tells Judith that she had seen Raymond with the body, and that the boy’s hands and shirt had been stained with blood. Raymond denied responsibility but nonetheless he had been arrested and taken into custody. Judith has also inspected the murder scene and found one or two pieces of evidence, apparently not spotted by the police, that might or might not be relevant. She and Constance have to act quickly because the case is expedited because of Raymond’s youth. But Raymond continues to be unhelpful to those who want to help him: ‘You’re the experts,’ he says contemptuously. 

One particularly troubling factor is that the Crown Prosecution Service, under pressure to cut costs, wants Raymond’s evidence to be given subject to a new truth verification software procedure (known as Pinocchio after the Italian story in which, whenever the boy in the story tells a lie, his nose gets longer) which will automatically assess a witness’s evidence by evaluating the thousands of tiny muscles in the face, invisible to the naked eye, which show whether or not the witness is telling the truth. Judith knows a great deal more about Pinocchio, and about its inventor, than she is willing to let on but the judge is insistent.

I was very impressed by this book, firstly by this author, herself a practising barrister, and not least by her portrait of Raymond who is cold, arrogant, unresponsive to people (later diagnosed as autistic), is one of the most unlikeable characters I can imagine in real life or fiction. Nonetheless, however unpleasant he is, if he is in fact innocent, he should not be convicted of a crime he did not commit. So far as I can ascertain, Pinocchio does not exist and the nearest I can find is voice stress analysis software designed to ascertain whether or not a witness is lying by analysing changes in a witness’s voice. Recommended.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Abi Silver grew up with a house full of books and was inspired from an early age to believe she could join the ranks of her heroes.  Abi accepts that she probably could not have produced The Pinocchio Brief without her experience as a lawyer to guide her along the way.  She says being a lawyer is just like being a detective, often required to construct the whole jigsaw puzzle of a client’s case from its constituent pieces.  Also, being a good judge of character too; the motivation behind people’s actions (which must be gleaned from their words and conduct) is key to understanding what really happened and why. Abi read Law at Girton College Cambridge before wanderlust sent her off travelling through Asia, Australia and South America as a student.  She also lived overseas in Israel for 5 years. Abi now lives in Radlett, Hertfordshire with her husband and three sons. 

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.

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