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Wednesday 28 March 2018

‘Blind Defence’ by John Fairfax

Published by Little Brown,
5 April 2018.
ISBN: 978-1-4087-0875-0(HB)

Not being a card player, before I read the second in John Fairfax's compelling series featuring convicted killer turned barrister William Benson I had no idea how similar conducting a defence in court is to playing a game of poker. Blind defence, the reader is reliably informed by one of the characters, is a useful tactic in the game – and it sums up the case Benson is fighting pretty well, too.

This time Benson appears to be defending the indefensible. His client is a thoroughly unpleasant character accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend; he strenuously denies it, but not only is there persuasive forensic evidence against him, he also shows marked reluctance to talk to Benson, and when he does, he seems incapable of offering the same version of events twice in a row. Not even Benson is totally convinced of his innocence but governed by the cab rank rule which means a barrister has to accept each case that comes his way, he sets out to achieve a not guilty verdict regardless of his own feelings. And what a tangle of events emerges, as it turns out that a lot more was going on in the victim's life than anyone realized.

It all takes place against the background of Benson's pressing financial problems. Since his triumph in the first book in the series, his career has taken a nosedive. Tess de Vere, the solicitor who believes in him, has been warned off providing him with work; the bank is calling in the loan he took out to set up his chambers and forcing him to put the houseboat he has made his home up for sale; a sneaky politician is after his blood. Even Tess, who has made it her mission to prove he was innocent of the crime which put him away for eleven years, is beginning to doubt him.

The essence of good fiction lies in the characters, and John Fairfax (now revealed as an alias for award-winning author William Brodrick, himself a former barrister) weaves them all into three-dimensional human beings any reader would want to get to know. Benson himself is edgy, secretive, determined and damaged. Tess is smart, self-aware and driven. Benson's former cellmate Archie, now his clerk, and Molly, his secretary-come-mother figure, are warm and stalwart, and Sally, Tess's friend and partner in cocktail nights, is sparky, flamboyant and too intrigued by Benson's past to let it go. The supporting players, too, are richly drawn; I especially enjoyed Mrs Justice Fleetwood on the bench and wanted to slap Merrington the justice minister and Yardley the prosecuting barrister. 

Like the first in the series, Blind Defence kept me up into the small hours. If the promised TV series is half as engrossing, you can count me in. And I can hardly wait for the next book.
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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