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Sunday 17 May 2020

‘The Trial of Lester Chan’ by Martin Wilson

Published by Matador,
28 November 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-83859170-0 (PB)

Hong Kong jewellery-king Lester Chan has been arrested for letters-of-credit fraud, and believes only a top quality English barrister can get him off. This novel follows the story of the judge and lawyers involved in his trial.

The novel’s a long one – 480 pages – and the first quarter is spent in meeting the four main protagonists. Frank Grinder, retired solicitor who specialised in fraud and banking cases, used to work in Hong Kong, and is missing his wife, Winnie, who’s gone back there to see her parents. Jonathan Savage QC is surprised to be chosen at short notice, and delighted to be flown out business class. Graham Truckett, an Australian lawyer, is horrified by the number of boxes that have suddenly appeared in his office – he’s to prosecute the case. Judge Brett O’Brian is also Australian, and prides himself on his courtroom briskness.  He’s a vaguely sympathetic old buffer, and Grinder shakes off the air of total incompetence he showed in the first chapter, but it’s hard to like the others: Jonathon is too jet-lagged to even look at the papers for the coming trial, and Graham too permanently hung-over – luckily he has a very intelligent junior, Lee Sit-Ming, who saves his bacon by writing an opening speech which explains to him what’s going on. We meet the defendant, and see how unlikely it is he’ll get off – unless the choice of solicitors is a deep plot.

Just before the trial starts, there’s a lengthy explanation (in hard-to-read italics) of what a letter of credit is, and how it can be used fraudulently; once the trial is about to start, the author explains that trials can be very dull, so he’ll give us only an outline of proceedings. The pace quickened slightly at the trial and moved to the ending without any final twists. It’s obviously a traditionally mysogonistic world, and I too comfortable with the colonial feel of the ending of the Graham / Lee Sit-Ming plot. There’s a lot of local colour with the protagonists journeying around the city, descriptions of delicious-sounding meals – you might want to keep your local Chinese take-away number handy as you read - and some humour in the clash of cultures..

A leisurely-paced legal novel based on a fraud trial. The author is a QC who has worked in Hong Kong, so there’s authority in descriptions of place, culture and details of court procedures.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Martin Wilson QC was, for many years, in practice at the Bar. He specialised in criminal law, defending and prosecuting in cases of murder, fraud, corruption and other serious crimes, both in England and Hong Kong. He always has enjoyed writing for pleasure but, had preferred to avoid the subject of the Law. However, his latest book, The Trial of Lester Chan lifts the lid on what it is like be involved in a criminal case from the points of view of counsel for the defence, counsel for the prosecution and the trial judge. Martin has three grown-up daughters and he and his wife, Julia, live in the Cotswolds

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.
Click on the title to read a review of her recent book
Death on a Shetland Isle

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