Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Certain Justice

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of A Certain Justice (Faber & Faber, 1997).

I first read A Certain Justice shortly after it was released, at a time in my life when I was getting a little exhausted with the detective fiction genre. I was, in retrospect, too reliant, then, on the "British lady" school, with little variety to keep things interesting. But another problem that I had with the book was that I simply couldn't understand the setting. All the business of barristers and chambers and the attendant office politics had me baffled. Subsequent attempts at the story just had me rolling with it, accepting that I'd never understand this business.

Since I last read this novel, I happily made a terrific decision. I watched several episodes of Rumpole of the Bailey, and read some of the adaptations and sequel stories by John Mortimer. While the whole world of barristers remains quite strange to American eyes, this novel now makes a lot more sense. Mortimer's influence has been so strong, in fact, that I "cast" the actress Patricia Hodge in the role of Venetia Aldridge, who, just as her life is spiraling out of control, is found dead in a Grand Guignol tableau, with fresh blood poured, long post-mortem, over her head and one of those oddball wigs that English law fetishizes.

All the typical Dalgliesh traits and tropes are here in this book. The chambers office and Aldridge's home life are both incredibly insular and overprotective communities full of secrets and privacy, and the Met's powerful commander is righteous, calm, and frightening in his destruction of every barrier put up to protect the desires of the dead. I love the character; he's like a force of nature bending and breaking everything into something open and respectful. Recommended, after a short introductory course of Rumpole.

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