The fact that Gary Bell is himself a QC contributes to this being an excellent description of the British justice system with all its intricacies laid bare. One can’t help but compare this to the many courtroom and legal dramas, on both our shelves and screens and I for one find all of it truly fascinating. It’s something that draws you in, wraps itself around you and will only let go once you’ve discovered that evidence, uncovered that last clue, solved that crime and heard the verdict declared.
This is the first in a series featuring Elliot Rook, a well-respected QC in Chambers and part of the ‘old-boy’ club. But assumptions can create deception – or is it the other way around? Rook isn’t quite what people think he is. When he becomes swamped by a massive fraud case, he’s encouraged to take on an assistant. He surprises everyone by taking on Zara Barnes. She’s a young girl of mixed-race, hungry to make it in the legal world and she reminds Rook more than a little bit of himself in younger years – not that anyone knows that. He comes under a lot of criticism for hiring Zara though. She doesn’t look the part and she certainly doesn’t fit into the hushed and revered surroundings of the Courts. But Rook couldn’t care less.
But then a murder case comes up. A young, unidentified Middle Eastern girl’s murdered body is found on the railway track on the outskirts of the small Nottingham mining town where Rook grew up. It’s a place he left behind him many years ago, hoping never to return. Its mining days are long gone and Bell’s descriptions of this dark, dreary place that lost hope so long ago allow the reader to feel the unease that its miserable residents must feel every day of their lives.
Billy Barber, local criminal, is a known racist and a brutally violent man. Circumstantial evidence is enough to pin the girl’s murder on him. But he insists that he’s represented by Elliot Rook and threatens to expose his past unless he agrees. And so Rook is forced to return to the place that holds so many bad memories for him. It seems to be a cut and dried case – obviously the Barber’s the murderer; who else could it be? And yet, Barber claims he didn’t do it, and almost immediately Rook finds that he believes him and that there are other factors in play here.
Bell, with his knowledge of the Old Bailey, gives us an inside look at the workings of the British criminal justice system. He’s sometimes cynical, and at other times uses droll humour, being able to stand back and have a bit of a chuckle at a system that he knows takes itself rather seriously. He artfully steers the reader through his shrewd twists and crafty misdirections until he leads us to that final disclosure!
5 stars for this, and highly recommended for lovers of legal and criminal procedure books. Would be a great way in for those looking to test the waters! I can’t wait to read more about Elliot Rook QC and his sidekick Zara Barnes!
Born into a coal mining family, Gary Bell QC left school without any qualifications and was an apprentice mechanic, fork lift truck driver, production line worker, builder, fireman and door-to-door salesman, as well as a notorious football hooligan, before being arrested for fraud aged 18. After a brief stint in prison he set off to seek fame and fortune abroad and, after two years drifting around Europe ended up penniless and homeless. He next enrolled in a FE College to study his O and A levels, and then went on to study law as a mature student at Bristol University where he ‘became’ an Old Etonian. After graduating he spent a year as a litigation lawyer in Beverly Hills before coming back to England to become a barrister. He has spent over thirty years at the Bar, specialising in defending in major fraud and murder trials, becoming a QC in 2012. Always on the look out for challenges and opportunities he has also been an award winning stand-up comedian; an after-dinner speaker (when at University he won several national debating competitions and was runner up in the World’s Humorous Debating Competition at Princeton); he has learned to fly a plane, hosted his own TV show (the Legalizer) on BBC1; writes regularly for national newspapers; has a column in The Spectator and wrote his best-selling autobiography, Animal QC.
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