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Wednesday, 15 March 2023

‘By Way of Sorrow’ by Robyn Gigl

Published by Verve,
16 March 2023. 
ISBN: 978-0-85730-835-1

Sharise Barnes is in custody, accused of the murder of a state senator’s son. There’s a mountain of evidence against her, and the verdict appears to be a foregone conclusion, although she claims she acted in self-defence. Enter Erin McCabe, criminal defence lawyer. Erin has never won a big case, and they don’t come bigger than this one. But Sharise doesn’t take much persuading to allow Erin to defend her in court.

There’s a reason for that: Erin is inclined to believe Sharise’s version of events. Also, Sharise is transgender – and so is Erin. When the senator’s cohorts leak this titbit to the media, the tabloids think all their birthdays have come at once; but the lurid coverage only makes Erin more determined to uncover the truth and ensure a fair trial for Sharise.

The senator has political ambitions and a lot of power. Every step Erin takes is blocked. The judge known to be fair and equitable is taken off the case and replaced by a hard-line right-winger. When Erin first meets her client, Sharise is in a male prison; attempts to have her moved fail, as do efforts to move the trial away from the senator’s influence. A potential witness is found dead in dubious circumstances. Erin’s apartment is broken into, and her phone bugged.

When a controversial topical issue is centre stage in a novel, it would be easy for the story to take second place to polemic and tub-thumping, especially when the author is herself transgender and would appear to have an axe to grind. To Robyn Gigl’s great credit, she sidesteps this trap deftly, and instead, highlights the issue with well-drawn characters who illustrate a number of different attitudes to it. As far as the case goes, aside from Erin’s insistence on correct terminology to describe her and Sharise’s gender status, they are merely lawyer and client caught up in the flaws in the American legal system which gives politicians power over the judiciary.

The result is a warm, sometimes humorous, always searingly honest legal thriller which not only provokes discussion of an issue which has made headlines recently, but also throws light on the way family values can become skewed, both when faced with controversy and in the pursuit of power. The ending isn’t quite what you might expect; the journey Erin, Sharise and their friends, families and enemies take to arrive there is an intriguing and gripping one. I was left hoping to see much more of Erin McCabe’s quest for justice.

Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Robyn Gigl is an attorney who has been honoured by the ACLU-NJ for her work with the transgender community. A frequent lecturer on diversity issues, she lives in New Jersey, where she continues to practice law by day, and work on her next Erin McCabe novel by night.

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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