Monday, February 15, 2016

Review of KILL ALL THE JUDGES by William Deverell

KILL ALL THE JUDGES by William Deverell 
(McClelland & Stewart, 2009)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Bumblingly brilliant legal legend Arthur Beauchamp is arm-twisted from his rustic life of retirement for the murder trial of crude poet Cudworth Brown: a man Arthur fears cuckolded him in the past. 

John Grisham undoubtedly has the biggest 'brand name' when it comes to page-turning legal thrillers. Other authors such as Scott Turow, Mark Gimenez, Linda Fairstein, Robert Dugoni, and recently Michael Connelly (his outstanding Mickey Haller series) and promising debutant Steve Cavanagh (THE DEFENCE), have garnered varying degrees of popularity and critical acclaim in what can be an enthralling genre.

But for my money, the finest writer of contemporary tales blending courtroom and crime is William Deverell. The Canadian maestro is to Grisham what James Lee Burke is to James Patterson, or a Château Lafite Rothschild is to a pleasingly quaffable supermarket red wine.

Here's Exhibit B (I've reviewed Deverell's Arthur Ellis Award-winning APRIL FOOL previously).

In KILL ALL THE JUDGES, Arthur Beauchamp has retired from the law. He's told everyone multiple times, including himself. He's happy living a life of simple rural pleasures with wife Margaret on Garibaldi, one of the Gulf Islands off Vancouver. He has absolutely no desire to don the robe and wig of his former glories (and sometimes not-so-glories). So when ribald local poet Cud Brown, an ex-steelworker turned activist, wordsmith, and general thorn in Arthur's side, is accused of killing a prominent mainland judge after a swanky party (and squiring the judge's wife on the night), Arthur couldn't possibly defend him. Right?

Arthur's retired, you see. He doesn't want to get back in the courtroom. Nothing at all to do with the rumours about what Cud got up to with Margaret while they parked themselves in a tree for weeks as part of an anti-logging protest a couple of years back. Cud is such a roguish and virile fella, after all ...

So Arthur points Cud in the direction of hot-shot Vancouver attorney Brian Pomeroy (from Deverell's earlier novel, KILL ALL THE LAWYERS), and prepares to be as supportive to his wife Margaret as he can, enduring her unlikely tilt at a federal by-election on behalf of the Green Party. Only Brian is feeling not-so-hot: his marriage has fallen apart, he has money worries, and he's sticking a Himalayan amount of snow up his nose. Then there's the mystery novel he's working on, about various important judges being killed off.

Just like in real life...

When Brian finally snaps, fleeing the court before resurfacing in a regal rehab facility suffering from drug-induced paranoia, Arthur is worn down by his wife, fellow islanders, and his own conscience. He steps begrudgingly into the breech to represent Cud. But does the legendary barrister still have what it takes, or will Arthur's courtroom ring-rust spell doom for his less-than-sympathetic client?

KILL ALL THE JUDGES is a beguiling, highly entertaining novel. Deverell's prose is sublime, and his characters and events are full of wit and fun - to the point of mad-cap at times - even when the content veers dark (murder, drug-taking, mental illness). For me, Deverell strikes a great balance between a 'what's going to happen?' narrative drive and lingering to enjoyably savour his eccentric characters, places, and situations. Arthur is a profoundly likable and charming hero. He can be bombastic, frustrating, and fairly 'old and stuffy', but he has a nobility and underlying humanity that shines through his various flaws.

The supporting cast, so to speak, is also very well-drawn. From Margaret, Arthur's strong and determined marital foil, to Cud and a variety of quirkly Garibaldi locals, to the delusional Pomeroy and others involved in the murder trial, Deverell delivers great characterisation throughout. KILL ALL THE JUDGES provides mystery and chuckles, along with plenty of literary and other allusions.

Deverell is a Château Lafite of a crime writer, providing full-bodied, multi-layered and complex tales of the highest quality that provide something to savour and a pleasant, lingering after-taste. Fortunately for us booklovers, such high-quality offerings aren't as out of reach, price-wise, as they are for oenophiles.

Craig Sisterson is a features writer from New Zealand who writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 140 crime writers, discussed crime fiction at literary festivals and on national radio, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. Follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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