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Monday 24 June 2019

The Cinderella Plan by Abi Silver

Published by Lightning Books,
11 July 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-7856127-6 (PB)

Things are going pretty well for James Salisbury, CEO of the car company SEDA which manufactures autonomous (self-driving) cars. Although special legislation is required the Government, anxious to promote advances in technology particularly when it appears that the risk of accidents is likely to be substantially reduced thus leading to a considerable reduction in the cost of driving insurance – both of which factors will be highly popular with the voting public, is encouraging despite the fears of Government lawyers as to possible legal liability. If the legislation goes through not only will SEDA (and James) make a lot of money but he will be seen as a public benefactor par excellence. And that pleases him no end. The wonderful thing about a self-driving car is that although the law requires the driver to sit in the driver’s seat, he doesn’t have to actually drive at all. He can text on his mobile, write on his IPad: on top of the car there is a computer which uses LIDAR (a combination of laser and radar technology) which can not only see hazards that could escape the attention of the most careful and thoughtful driver but take the appropriate non-hazardous action. Another app, VERA (Voice-activated, Enhanced, Road-experience Assistant) will talk to him about what is going on and chat about all sorts of things: in fact, a more extreme version of ALEXA now found in so many homes. And yet another app, EDR (Event Data Recorder) records everything that has happened.

So, in that case, how is it that James, being driven home by his SEDA and texting his wife, knocks down and kills two small children who ran out into the road and severely injures their mother? Just the sort of thing that SEDA should prevent? Had James in fact switched from SEDA to manual but, having himself been concussed and suffering from memory loss, been unaware of what he had done? If there was some fault in the autonomous system that would be a huge blow to SEDA’s prospects, not to mention James’s vision of himself as a major contributor to road safety. But if he had after all switched to manual, then he is to blame and could be facing a prison sentence of 15 years.

This is where solicitor Constance Lamb and barrister Judith Burton come in. They are called upon to mount a defence of James. In order to do that they have to establish fault – was it James’s or the car’s? - and find out exactly what happened. There is quite a bit of obfuscation, particularly by the Government with evidence being withheld. And James himself is horrified at what has happened and the parents of the two dead children are devastated and would like nothing better than to see James in jail for a very long time. The trial begins and then some unexpected evidence is introduced. What effect will that evidence have on the verdict? And will the verdict be the end of the matter?

In this third in the author’s Burton and Lamb legal series the author presents a highly complex story which the author expertly unravels while at the same time presenting readers with her concern at recent developments in information technology (lie detecting in The Pinocchio Brief, robots performing operations in The Aladdin Trial, and in this book self-driven cars): such developments, she is telling us, may bring their own problems with them. And at the same time, in The Cinderella Plan, we must not forget that two very young children with their lives before them, died needlessly. 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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