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Skin and Blister

Skin and Blister is the third instalment in solicitor Victoria Blake’s detective thrillers based around Private Investigator Sam Falconer. In this, when a student is found dead in his rooms at St Barnabas College, Oxford, it looks like nothing more than an unfortunate suicide. A week later, when Sam's brother disappears, she finally begins to put two and two together and recognises the disturbing connection between the events. Then her mother receives a Catholic mass card, announcing that a funeral mass is to be said for her son. Sam embarks on a race against time from Oxford to Iraq and back to the troubles in Ireland, in an attempt to save her brother. A course not aided by the revelation that her father a former SAS officer had killed forty republicans in the province and someone is out for retribution.

Whilst the story is entertaining and enjoyable, it is unfortunately somewhat predictable. The plot will not strain your intellect too much over festive period. The characters are rather one dimensional and predictable. As such you fail to find that much affinity with the leading character; but that said its easy going and quite engaging.

Skin and Blister by Victoria Blake Orion - Price £18.99 -  ISBN: 0752874594

 

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Rumpole and the Reign of Terror - By John Mortimer

Rumpole and the Reign of Terror

Rumpole of the Bailey is as a much an English institution as tea and scones, warm beer and discussions about the weather. Over thirty years the author John Mortimer has attempted to keep Rumpole’s short stories as up-to-date and as relevant as possible. As such over the years he has struggled with official secrets; feminist politics, the internet and the countryside alliance. Keeping to such an agenda in Reign of Terror, Rumpole challenges the new anti-terrorism laws, political corruption and racism. In many ways the story is traditional Rumpole; not only does he defend another member of the infamous Timson family, but he gets to defend a Pakistani born doctor Mahmoud Khan who has been arrested on suspicion of terrorism. Not only is Mahmoud imprisoned but the authorities rather unhelpfully refuse to disclose the reasons why, making it rather difficult to say the least, for a defence to be advanced. This also brings Rumpole face to face with a Home Secretary who has allowed power to change his priorities in life.

Shocked by the apparent infringement on human rights Rumpole takes on the case, the law and the government.

In a rather novel departure from his normal formula for these books, Mortimer allows Hilda, she of “she who must be obeyed” fame to share a large amount of the limelight with her husband. As such we see the first extracts of the memoirs of Hilda Rumpole who it would seem is on the verge of an affair with one of Rumpole’s arch-enemies and frequent sparring partner his Honour Judge Bullingham (the Old Bull).

I have been an enormous fan of the light comedy attached to the Rumpole series of books, and it is with a tinge of sadness that I must criticise the novel. It is clear that Mortimer is not only disappointed with New Labour, but disgusted with some of its recent policy decisions on how best to deal with terrorism whilst maintaining a natural balance with the rights of the individual. It may well be that Mortimer has a point, from a defence barrister’s perspective recent legislation does appear to alter the basic principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty, especially where “terrorists” are involved. However, reading this novel you get the feeling that Mortimer has rather over-egged the pudding. The novel for the first time in the series appears more Mortimer than Rumpole and in that way is rather over-indulgent. Far too much anti-New Labour language and if you excuse the pun somewhat laboured in its telling.

Whilst this is not perhaps Rumpole at his best, it is a fun, easy to read yarn; to be read over a glass or two of Pommeroy’s Chateau Thames Embankment of course.  

 Rumpole and the Reign of Terror is published by Viking for the price of £18.99

ISBN 0-670-91621-8

 

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Inside the Whale by Jennie Rooney

Jenny Rooney’s debut novel is a revelation. Finally a well written and thoroughly entertaining novel written by an English lawyer that does not revolve around law, crime or a dodgy solicitor. Instead the story deals with that other, seemingly insurmountable challenge, what makes love?

In 1939 Stephanie and Michael fall head over heels in love with one another. A love destined to last for forever. But then War comes and Michael joins the Royal Signals goes, off to fight for his country and refuses to return as a result of an incident in the trenches in war torn Africa. Kenya has an unforeseen effect which will change their lives and destinies.  The novel in many ways follows

Michael is in hospital and can no longer speak and so must communicate with a pad attached with a cord beside his bed. Stevie is mourning the death of her husband. We learn that they were once lovers and that the events of the war have kept them apart. They are ordinary people who, like many others, have regrets and now look on the world differently from when they were young. It was quite a sad story, because you hear both sides (alternate chapters were written in the voice of the two key characters) you see all the pitfalls coming and wish it could be different for the two of them. It's this wishing that shows what a good book it is.

Think Love in the Time of Cholera meets 84 Charing Cross Road and you will not be too disappointed.

age old problemconcernstwo lovers looking back on their relationship, their lives apart and the decisions which we make and how

Five stars

Inside the Whale by Jennie Rooney is published by Chatto and Windus and is available at all good bookshops for £12.99 ISBN 978-0-701-18273-1

John Grisham’s The Innocent Man

John Grisham’s The Innocent Man

John Grisham’s latest legal thriller is unlike anything he has written before. Gone are the fictional characters and the larger by life stories; of the twists, intrigue and court room drama. In there place he provides a real life tale of corruption, incompetence and injustice. Grisham’s first work of non-fiction is nevertheless a hard-hitting white-knuckle ride through the inadequacies of the American legal system. It is regrettably a story we have heard all too often in recent years of a system stifled by the almost desperate need to convict someone, anyone!

In Grisham’s work he recalls the shocking rape and murder of a 21-year-old cocktail waitress in a town in Oklahoma. For five years the police were unable to solve the crime yet based on gut feeling they determined that the murderers were Ron Williamson and his friend Dennis Fritz. The only problem was that they did not have any evidence or real basis for such a determination. That was not however to stop them. With the assistance of junk science and the ever “reliable” testimonies of jailhouse snitches and convicts the two were charged. Both were found guilty. Fritz to life imprisonment and Williamson to death row. It is beyond comprehension to believe for one moment that these two men had anything whatsoever to do with the crime, but unfortunately in the American legal system that is not always enough.

Whilst this book is centred on the story of Williamson and Fritz other tales of incompetence and complacency in the US legal system are touched upon; be it the police, the scientists or even the courts themselves. Allowing controversial confessions; the wanton disregard to justice; to evidence tampering and to police brutality. This is a horrifying examination of a system in decay.

Whilst Grisham should be praised for writing such a book and giving his “celebrity” support to the on-going debate in the US about its legal system; he must however be criticised on this occasion for his style of writing. The book is written in a narrative almost statement-esque fashion. Grisham had the opportunity to interview most of the leading characters and read the crime reports, yet you get that feeling that perhaps as he was writing a non-fiction novel for the first time he felt somewhat restricted from writing with any passion or feeling. The prose is thus much more matter of fact; distant, almost unnecessarily objective in its style.  As such it is sometimes difficult to feel the genuine emotion for the characters as we might expect in such a real life tale. We are left wanting to understand Williamson and Fritz: their pain; their hopelessness and rather disappointing Grisham does not oblige us with this insight.

Nevertheless this is a terrifying tale which reminds us once more that the maxim that you are innocent until proven guilty in America only applies if you have either money or mental solitude.

The Innocent Man by John Grisham is published by Century for £18.99 – ISBN 978-1 8441-3790-9