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Friday 2 February 2024

‘Indefensible by James Woolf

Published by Bloodhound,
5 January 2024.
978-1-916978-14-0 (PB)

One of the key factors of good fiction is a vivid sense of the world inhabited by the characters: the places they spend time in, the work they do, the lives they lead. The main characters of this debut legal thriller don’t even appear in the first few pages, but it’s still plain right from the start that creating that ambience is one of the author’s strengths. And when Daniel, the protagonist, does make his first appearance, we jump straight into his world as he bails out a workmate with a problem before heading to his own intractable private life. The workmate is trying to balance wife and mistress; Daniel has vain hopes of reclaiming his marriage and children.

It’s the mid-1990s, underlined with plenty of historical detail. Mass-murderer Fred West is in the headlines, John Major becomes leader of the Tory party, Neil Hamilton and the cash-for questions scandal raise their heads. Daniel is a barrister, a tenant in New Court, the chambers headed up by no less prestigious a QC than George Carman, who makes several fleeting appearances. Daily life in chambers is portrayed in a way that speaks of personal experience or meticulous research; indeed, the New Court chief clerk, a role always at the heart of legal life, also appears as a character. Daniel is some way down the pecking order, and grateful when he is given a juicy murder case to defend.

More careful research has clearly gone into the progress of that case, underpinned by the venerable, and somewhat daunting, atmosphere of the Old Bailey. And to ring the changes, intertwined with the courtroom scenes is Daniel’s personal life, which begins to look up when he meets Michaela, a lively and potty-mouthed journalist and they fall in love.

It’s after the court case that Daniel’s life hits a major hurdle which leads to a downward trajectory – and to relate any more of the story would involve spoilers, so I’m going to stop there.

Any story needs true-to-life characters, of course, and this one has plenty. Rod, the murder suspect, is bland, apparently emotionless, and gives nothing away, in contrast to Daniel’s openness, his feelings very much on the surface. Michaela is a woman of strong opinions, independent and her own person. A wealth of well-drawn minor players also helps to weave the background: homeless Jackie, a key witness in the court case, rough diamond solicitor Stan, Daniel’s three children (especially combative Imogen), his ex-wife’s new partner working-class Stuart, and many more.

Any reader who is fascinated by the workings of the judicial system will relish the detail contained in the account of Rod’s trial, and also in the background of everyday life in New Court. Add in plenty of dramatic tension and a touch of romance, and what more could you want from a novel?
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

James Woolf is a London based writer. His job in professional ethics inspired him to write his debut novel, Indefensible, which was published in January 2024. His second novel is The Company She Keeps, which will be released in July 2024. Around 30 of his short stories have appeared in magazines and books, including four in the longstanding arts magazine Ambit. James also writes stage plays (about 15 have been professionally produced) and has written radio plays for Radio 4 and LBC.

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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