Friday, 26 February 2010

Blood from Stone by Frances Fyfield

Rick Boyd is a sadistic, over-confident con man who preys on anyone he can to satisfy his own perverse pleasure in demeaning, abusing and finally destroying other people. Marianne Shearer is the barrister who takes on his defence when he is accused of kidnap and torture. He couldn’t have had a better defender, because although she is sworn to uphold the law, Shearer has carved out her career by twisting the law, testimony, appearances in any way she can to get her clients off, guilty or no. She systematically tears apart the prosecution witnesses and makes them look like the perpetrator rather than the victim. In Rick Boyd’s case, she succeeds to the point where two victims withdraw their testimony and the third commits suicide, effectively rendering the case impotent and earning her Boyd’s acquittal. Once again she is successful in a case she should never have been able to win, so why does Shearer commit suicide a short time later? Is it because Boyd admits to her after the trial that he’s not only guilty of the charges, but much more as well? Has Shearer, after all these years, finally made contact with her conscience? Or is there something else lurking in the background?

Since it’s a given that Boyd is guilty, the plot focuses mainly on why such a successful barrister would suddenly up and commit suicide without warning. What were her motives? Why would she suddenly take such a drastic measure? Those who are searching for the answers quickly realize that they are up against the clock as Boyd himself enters the race so that he can destroy anything that might answer these questions.

Personally, I’ve always found Law to be an either overly dry subject, or one riddled with such unfairness and so many loopholes that it leaves me despairing of justice ever being done, ergo, it’s not one of my favourite subjects. After having read this book which includes snippets from witness cross-examination in Boyd’s trial, I find myself hoping that this really is fiction and never reality. Had Francis Fyfield never been a lawyer, I would have written it off as untrue, instigated a little willing suspension of disbelief and gotten on with enjoying the book. However, knowing that she was a barrister makes me wonder if it isn’t all just too possible. The bullying and the browbeating of the witnesses was appalling, but even more so was the failure of the judge to intervene where the defence was clearly overstepping bounds all bounds of legal necessity. It is to be hoped that no lawyer can be allowed stoop to the third grade tactic of calling witnesses names in the stand. It was vicious and had I personally been in the jury, I think I would have discounted anything further testimony from the cross examination simply because of the method and the obvious attempt to obscure rather than find the truth.

Perhaps this is why I felt the book was good, but not great. It was a good read, but it just felt as if there was something missing. Perhaps it was the legal angle that bothered me, or perhaps it was just that there were too many angles to the story. It sometimes felt like she started to introduce a character, then got a bit sidetracked and took the story somewhere else where this character couldn’t follow. It came together well in the end, but still left me feeling that something that should have been there just wasn’t. I’m giving this one a 3 out of 5 because of that. Don’t let that put you off of Fyfield though, I know I’ll try other books of hers because I think she could be a great writer, this was probably just not her best novel.

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