No other way to put this: Olly Jarvis, a Manchester barrister, has written a tour de force.
When John Anderson, a successful prosecution barrister and the son of a still ambitious circuit judge, apparently falls asleep at the wheel and kills two people, everyone advises him to plead guilty at the first opportunity.
I don’t want to give too much away, but you won’t be surprised to hear that there is more excitement in store than obtaining maximum credit for an early guilty plea. Jarvis manages to combine a court-room drama and a fast moving thriller with a generous dash of whodunnit, and he pulls it off to perfection.
First the court scenes: as one would expect Jarvis knows exactly what he is talking about, and it shows. The oily silks, the less than competent also rans, the pretty but dangerous pupil, the dodgy-seeming Higher Court Advocate and the tetchy judges: all make their appearances and all are convincing, if not particularly complex, characters. Nobody has managed to do this since the last Rumpole was written, but Jarvis has captured the atmosphere of the contemporary Crown Court to perfection. The language is spot on, and the reactions of the judges to the inevitably unusual proceedings in their courts are exactly as one would expect them to be. Certainly no-one that I have read has done it more convincingly.
Second, the plot: Jarvis has written a thriller, and it grips from the very first page and – as with all the best thrillers – it never lets go. There are twists and turns, surprises and even flashes of sex and horror, but there is never any danger of losing ones way completely, a great help for lazy readers like me who give up all too easily if we find ourselves, as it were, losing the plot. For the first few chapters I thoroughly disliked the central protagonist, but as the story developed he becomes a great deal more attractive, and by the end I was cheering him on to see that justice was done. As with the best detective stories the ending was quite unexpected – to me anyway – yet in retrospect just about guessable from the various clues left along the way, especially perhaps to anyone with a background in criminal or public law.
It would make a perfect stocking filler for a lawyer, but you certainly don’t need to be a lawyer to enjoy it.
Nor, indeed, do you need to be English. I can imagine both the court-room scenes and the slightly gritty north of England atmosphere being a real hit in America, Canada or Australia. John Grisham is past his best these days, and the time could be right for an Englishman to take up his mantle.
One more thing: if the film rights are still for sale, can I buy them? Death By Dangerous would work perfectly as a three part television serial.
(And just in case you were wondering: no, I don’t know the author, he works in a completely different part of the country from me and until a few days ago I’d never even heard of him.)