Forced Confessions (Benson & De Vere)

I wrote last August that perhaps the best alternative to thinking about a Cormoran Strike novel we do not have would be reading and discussing the Benson and De Vere courtroom drama and detection thrillers by John Fairfax, the nom de plume of William Brodrick. There are, as I wrote then, some fascinating parallels between the Strike and Benson books and Galbraith/Fairfax:

The points of correspondence?

  • Brodrick had written six novels with a character, Father Anselm, and in a genre-melange largely of his invention. These novels had won him an international audience and all the awards the industry bestows. He adopts a transparent pseudonym, ‘John Fairfax,’ to take up a new character, William Benson, in a different if related genre.
  • Each of the Benson novels are satisfying stand-alone court room dramas told against the back-drop of the lead character’s mysterious personal history, to which story the attentive reader is given clues in each book.
  • While Benson is the star of the show and his mystery is the over-arching mystery, he has an assistant, Tess de Vere, who is a more than capable barrister herself, has her own personal enigmas the reader has to work out, and their relationship is strictly professional with hints that it will become ‘more than that.’
  • Benson is damaged goods, though. He is a lawyer licensed to plea in the Old Bailey, yes, but he is also a convicted murderer who pleaded guilty, did hard time, and is still very much in recovery from that experience. De Vere and Benson, according to the author, are on parallel and separate journeys of redemption that may intersect at times.
  • The man’s name is ‘Benson,’ right? Can you hear Shanker’s nickname for Strike there? ‘Bunsen’?

I’ll allow that the last point is a little weak.

The good news is that, unlike Rowling/Galbraith and Strike5, Brodrick/Fairfax has already announced the third Benson and De Vere novel title and publication date: Forced Confessions will be available on 5 March 2020.

Between thesis writing and Covid-19, alas, my best laid plans for prolonged discussion of the first two books before the publication of the third have all gang aglay. (Except for this one post.) I have ordered Forced Confessions, however, and look forward to reading it and to discussion here after I do.

Please join me in that and, if you haven’t already, read or re-read (or listen to) the brilliant first two Benson novels, Summary Justice and Blind Defence!

Summary Justice 1: The Novel Structure

As regular readers of HogwartsProfessor know, October will be dedicated in large part to discussion of the William Brodrick (writing as ‘John Fairfax’) novels Summary Justice and Blind Defence (not a typo).  We’ll start with Justice, the first book of the series, for two weeks of posts and, beginning on the 14th, we’ll move on to Defence and speculation about book three, Forced Confessions, due out in March 2020.

Why are we reading these books? Why now? I’ve explained this in previous posts at some length but the short answer is that there are fascinating parallels and correspondences between the Brodrick/Fairfax coutroom dramas and its lead players, William Benson and Tess de Vere, and the Rowling/Galbraith murder mysteries featuring Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott-Cunliffe. Beyond the famous-author-with-transparent-pseudonym, we have a brilliant couple linked professionally with the matter of justice being done with respect to murder who cannot or will not become romantically entwined. More important, we have two series with over-arching mysteries for which we are given important clues in slow release in the stand-alone novels.

Today’s first post is a very quick look at the story structure. I doubt any other reviewer’s reflex when reading a story is to chart out the lay-out of the story-telling (please send me a url if you find any of Fairfax’s readers have done this already!). I believe, though, via Nabokov and Lewis, that the story structure, a large even the greatest part of the ‘how’ of writing, makes up most of the ‘what.’ As Cleanth Brooks noted, “Form is meaning.”

I won’t be doing a full ring analysis today but I do want to note the obvious relationships of the story parts in Summary Justice and suggest not only what this means for the first novel but what it may indicate about the series as a whole. There will of course be plenty of spoilers, no apologies or warnings, so if you haven’t read the book and want to do so without knowing the finish, well, stop right here. [Read more…]

Mail Bag: Books Like Cormoran Strike?

Hello Professor,

I love all of your articles on the Strike series. I have read the series several times now and I’m dying for the next one. The detective genre is completely out of my wheelhouse as I usually read epic fantasy like Robert Jordon or Brandon Sanderson. But I’m enjoying this so much I would like to read more like it and I was wondering if you had any books or authors to recommend that are similar to the Strike series.

Hope you are having a great weekend.


Great question, Phil! Here are five recommendations for murder mystery books with a Cormoran Strike resonance:

(1) John Fairfax’s Benson and De Vere courtroom dramas

We’ll be discussing the first, Summary Justice, here beginning tomorrow! Go here for more on these stories and their relationship with Strike.

(2) Ian Rankin’s John Rebus novels

Cormoran Strike is in several ways Rowling’s re-imagining of Rankin’s John Rebus but with him set in London rather than Edinburgh and as a private detective rather than police officer. ‘Ian Rankin and Cormoran Strike‘ is a good first stop to learn about these two.

(3) P. D. James’ Cordelia Gray thrillers

There are only two, alas, but it is hard to overstate the influence of Cordelia Gray on Galbraith’s Robin Ellacott. Check out the Duchess of Malfi debts discussed here.

(4) Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie books

I’m just starting Case Histories but, having read Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Life after Life, and A God in Ruins, I’m more than confident that Rowling is a great fan of Atkinson and that Cormoran Strike and Jackson Brodie would recognize each other as types.

(5) Boris Akunin’s Sister Pelagia mysteries

Akunin is a treasure whose Erast Fandorin novels — each a different genre (I kid you not) — are an international sensation and delight. His much shorter series on a plucky Orthodox nun in Tsarist Russia who is given leave to re-join the world in disguise to investigate crimes in obedience to her bishop are personal favorites despite its train wreck of a finish to this trilogy.

I hope that helps! If others have recommendations, please click on the ‘Leave a Comment’ button up by the post headline and share your favorites in the comment boxes below!

Tomorrow, the bracketing structure of Summary Justice…

Will Benson and Tess De Vere Last Call: ‘Summary Justice’ On Deck at HogPro

On 1 October we will begin discussion of the John Fairfax (aka William Brodrick) novel Summary Justice. I have explained why and my excitement about this first book and the series of novels it introduces here and here and here. We’ll move on to the second book of the Benson-de Vere court room thrillers, Blind Defence, on 14 October and speculation about the third, Forced Confessions, that will be out in March 2020.

Today, in hope of encouraging you to pick up the book at your local library or to buy it online or at your local bricks-and-mortar store, I will list as my ‘Last Call!’ seven of the topics scheduled for this first week of discussion:

  • ‘Did He Do It?’ The big question of the series is whether the hero, William Benson, actually committed the murder for which he was convicted and imprisoned as a young man. We’ll list the evidence for and against that is provided in Summary Justice.
  • The Cratylic Names: Benson, and De Vere, certainly, but what about ‘John Fairfax,’ a name associated in the UK with a heroic athlete and with a creative writing teacher;
  • Benson/Strike: Comparing and contrasting the main male characters of the two series
  • De Vere/Ellacott: Comparing and contrasting the main female characters of the two series
  • Rowling/Galbraith versus Brodrick/Fairfax: The similarities and the differences in their choices of and decisions to use a pseudonym;
  • The Slow Release: We get a story that is told against the backdrop and bracketing of the larger mystery in Summary Justice. Here the larger story is Benson’s murder rap with some questions about de Vere’s escape to and return from Belgium. Does Fairfax’s use of this continued story model compare favorably with Galbraith’s slow release of details about Leda Strike’s death, Cormoran’s history at Oxford and Afghanistan, the Charlotte lost child, and Robin’s reasons for not completing her university degree?
  • The Romance: Well, does Benson love de Vere? She him? What’s going on in this bizarro relationship of inspiration, admiration, curiosity, and secret-keeping?

Get reading — and feel free to keep notes on any and all of these question topics for our discussion that begins here on 1 October!

Will Benson and Tess De Vere Reminder: ‘Summary Justice’ On Deck at HogPro

I have just finished John Fairfax’s Summary Justice, the first of his courtroom thrillers featuring the convicted-murderer-become-barrister William Benson and his much more conventional and accredited lawyer cum tutor Tess de Vere. I am delighted to say it is a winner and a wonderful opening to what looks to be a series somewhat akin to the Cormoran Strike – Robin Ellacott detective mysteries.

The three biggest points of correspondence are just the ones you’d want to find if you’re a Serious Striker.

First, the novel was a satisfying story unto itself with twists upon twists, spectacular back and forth revelations in the Old Bailey, and delightfully involved narratives written by both the murder victim and by the murderer. Summary Justice works as a stand-alone book.

Second, there are two background mysteries akin to Robin’s reasons for dropping out of college and the death of Leda Strike. Tess de Vere has just returned to the UK after years overseas and why she left and came back is only hinted at (her best friend Sally really wants to know). More important and urgent is whether Benson did or not did not commit the murder for which he was convicted and served eleven years in prison. Tess sets out with Sally to find out who killed Paul Harbeton if it wasn’t Benson — and what Tess learns and what we see of Will’s time at home with father and brother is not especially reassuring with respect to his innocence.

Third, the lead characters and the supporting cast are well-drawn, credible, and engaging. Benson’s sidekick from prison, Archie Congreve, his legal secretary, Molly Robson, and his legal mentor and seeming Magwitch, Miss Camberley, promise to be constants and delights in the novels to come.

I look forward, then, to starting the next book, Blind Defence, which I’m sure will be another thrill-ride, to taking the next step forward in it to learning about the over-arching mysteries, and just to spending time with Will, Tess, and Company. As I do with Strike5, right?

Please do get a copy of Summary Justice and give it at least one reading before we start discussing it next month. I was confident that it would be a great choice for our conversation after reading five of Brodrick’s Father Anselm mysteries; after finishing Summary Justice today, I know you will love it.

If you need an extra boost, read the rave reviews sans spoilers for the book at The Literary Shed (UK) and at GoodReads. Then go to the library or your local bookstore or to, pick up your copy, and start reading!