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Sunday 17 April 2022

‘To Become an Outlaw’ by Peter Murphy

Published by No Exit Press,
21 April 2022.
ISBN: 978-0-85730-466-7 (PBO)

The title of this thought-provoking legal thriller is part of a quotation from Nelson Mandela, so it’s no surprise that the novel is rooted in the battle to bring down apartheid, the crime against humanity which masqueraded as a political system in South Africa until the 1990s.  

Danie du Plessis and his wife Amy Coetzee are forced to flee their native country for committing the crime of falling in love – a crime simply because he is classed as white and she as coloured. They find safety in Cambridge, where they forge academic careers, raise two children and put the past behind them – until they are approached by Art Pienaar, who is active in the campaign to bring down apartheid and enlists their help in the struggle.

The complex issues which follow have the ring of inevitability; most of the power lies in the hands of governments, and the British establishment has its own reasons for maintaining a good relationship with the South African regime. Danie finds himself close to losing everything he has worked for, and at the lowest point his entire family’s lives are in danger. Fortunately, he has good friends whose grasp of the law’s more subtle nuances is even greater than his own.

Much of the action in the second half of this intriguing novel takes place in police stations and courtrooms, but as much goes on behind the scenes as in plain view, and Danie has some surprising allies. Peter Murphy has made excellent use of his own background to concoct a thriller with a large element of the political as well as the legal. A number of challenging questions are posed: is it ethical to commit relatively minor crimes in the pursuance of a just cause? Can the financial proceeds of crime ever be used honourably? And specifically, in Danie du Plessis’s case, if a person becomes involved in a crime without realizing what is going on, is he or she as guilty as the perpetrator?

Nearly thirty years after apartheid was abolished it is easy to take sides; indeed, it wasn’t hard when the battle was being waged. But Peter Murphy has succeeded in showing that nothing is ever quite black and white and has done it in the form of an absorbing page-turner peopled with interesting characters, which will make you think as well as root for the good guys.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Peter Murphy was born in 1946. After graduating from Cambridge University, he spent a career in the law, as an advocate and teacher, both in England and the United States. His legal work included a number of years in The Hague as defense counsel at the Yugoslavian War Crimes Tribunal. He lives with his wife, Chris, in Cambridgeshire.

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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