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Friday 27 March 2020

‘Forced Confessions’ by John Fairfax

Published by Little Brown,
5 March 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-4087-1160-6 (HB)

Some books are so gripping and entertaining that you want to race through them to find out what happens. Others, equally fascinating, make you want to linger over them, to savour the quality of the plotting and character building; or maybe they're just so brilliant you don't want them ever to end.

Each of John Fairfax's series featuring William Benson, convicted murderer and now criminal barrister, falls firmly into the second category. I could have galloped through Forced Confessions in a couple of sittings, but I made myself slow down, relish each twist and turn and revelation and make sure I extracted every nuance – especially when those revelations involved Benson's own backstory which has run through all three in the series.

This time, as before, Benson is defending a man accused of murder, against whom the evidence seems compelling, even incontrovertible. John Lynwood's wife Karen is accused alongside him, though not of murder but of perverting the course of justice. And as before, Benson, convinced of their innocence, digs around in places other barristers would not go to, in search of evidence of his own.

And as if their story wasn't enough, Benson's past is conspiring against him. Helen Camberley, the barrister who defended him at his own trial and supported him throughout his prison term and in his post-prison career, is in hospital close to death. Richard Merrington, Secretary of State for Justice, who has been Benson's sworn enemy from the start, is wheeling and dealing in order to prevent certain facts which threaten his own ambition from coming to light. And the Harbetons, the East End no-good family of the man he was convicted of killing, are out for his blood. Small wonder he is in danger of sinking into a deep depression.

The two stories unfold in parallel, peopled by familiar and unfamiliar characters, all of them rounded and real. Surprisingly, Benson himself, though firmly at the centre of both strands, appears largely through the eyes of other characters, mainly Tess de Vere, the solicitor who always believed in him and now provides much of his work. It's Tess who has begun to unpick the evidence which put him behind bars, and some shocking truths come to light as she digs down.

William Benson's story is at the heart of one of the most enthralling series to have come my way for a very long time, and Forced Confessions only serves to reinforce that view. Rationing myself to a few chapters at a time was both a challenge and a necessity to ensure I didn't miss a trick. And I can't wait to see where John Fairfax takes the series next.
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 in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.


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