John Fairfax, Summary Justice, October!

Reminder #1: We’ll be discussing the John Fairfax novel, Summary Justice, the first two weeks of October — you have all of this month to buy and read it. In the third week of October, we’ll start in on the second Benson and de Vere courtroom drama, Blind Defence, and begin speculating about the third, Forced Confessions, that will be published in March 2020.

Why? Please read my explanation from late last month: ‘What to Read While Waiting for Strike5.’ In short, the book is written by a renowned novelist under a transparent pseudonym and has quite a few ‘striking’ similarities to the Cormoran and Robin murder mysteries.

Here is the book blurb from the publishers:

The last time Tess de Vere saw William Benson she was a law student on work experience. He was a twenty-one year old, led from the dock of the Old Bailey to begin a life sentence for murder. He’d said he was innocent. She’d believed him.

Sixteen years later Tess overhears a couple of hacks mocking a newcomer to the London Bar, a no-hoper with a murder conviction, running his own show from an old fishmonger’s in Spitalfields. That night she walks back into Benson’s life. The price of his rehabilitation – and access to the Bar – is an admission of guilt to the killing of Paul Harbeton, whose family have vowed revenge. He’s an outcast. The government wants to shut him down and no solicitor will instruct him.

But he’s subsidised by a mystery benefactor and a desperate woman has turned to him for help: Sarah Collingstone, mother of a child with special needs, accused of slaying her wealthy lover. It’s a hopeless case and the murder trial, Benson’s first, starts in four days. The evidence is overwhelming but like Benson long ago, she swears she’s innocent. Tess joins the defence team, determined to help Benson survive. But as Benson follows the twists and turns in the courtroom, Tess embarks upon a secret investigation of her own, determined to uncover the truth behind the death of Paul Harbeton on a lonely night in Soho.

True to life, fast-paced and absolutely compelling, Summary Justice introduces a new series of courtroom dramas featuring two maverick lawyers driven to fight injustice at any cost.

When I wrote this post, the best prices for Summary Justice were $4.65 for the hardcover at ABEbooks.com and $3.65 for the paperback on eBay, and, yes, those prices include shipping and handling. Go to BookFinder4u.com and search for either US or UK bookstores to find the best price today. Or download the Audible audiobook for $14 and change. Or just go buy it at your local bricks and mortar bookstore — time’s a’wastin’!

What to Read While Waiting for Strike5: John Fairfax’ Benson and DeVere Novels

I have been reading Agatha Christie novels of late in search of Rowling notes (I found an Arabella yesterday who is a cat owned by a woman with fourteen cats — and a secret…). That is a lot of fun, frankly, perhaps because it is not especially challenging reading if you’re not — and I definitely am not — trying to figure out the inevitable grand twist at the finale before getting there. Christie’s messages and meaning are not very subtle or covert and the prose is workmanlike; her artistry is in the plotting and her power the stunning defamiliarization consequent to her big reveal of what really happened.

I have also been reading the Father Anselm novels of William Brodrick, an Augustinian monk become barrister become novelist. If P. D. James wrote Brother Cadfael mysteries as historical thrillers, you’d have the sort of book Brodrick writes. The language and questions explored are relatively magisterial compared to Christie and Rowling — and the plotting and slow release are comparable to those two, which is to say, “very, very good.” I have read four of the six Anselm novels and am looking forward to reading the fifth, The Discourtesy of Death.

I discovered this morning that Brodrick has written two more novels, Summary Justice and Blind Defense, which I have ordered. I have done so because it occurs to me that these novels have a lot in common with the Cormoran Strike mysteries, enough in common that reading and discussing them here at HogwartsProfessor might be a healthy exercise while we wait for Strike5, a novel I fear may be several years away (Rowling’s retreat from the public sphere since January may be a sign of her getting down to work on her screenplay and novel commitments, or, just as likely, it may mean she is taking time off to work on personal issues rather than writing).

The five 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.

No, this reading and speculation will not be as much fun as ‘talking Strike.’ I’m confident even before reading the first Benson and de Vere novel that it and the next book won’t include a hidden commentary on or a truckload of correspondences with the Father Anselm historical thrillers. I’d bet, too, that Brodrick is not a ring writer, either, whose series take a definite structural and symbolic turn a la Rowling. We won’t be able to make intelligent guesses, consequently, about what Benson’s next case may involve as we can with Strike via Potter and the previous Strike mysteries.

But there is that embedded romance along with the twined redemption stories of two intelligent professionals who may or may not fall in love… in books written by a master story teller. That’s pretty doggone inviting.

So, here’s my challenge. I am going to start discussing the first Benson and De Vere novel, Summary Justice, on 1 October. You have all of September to buy and read the book. I will restrict conversation here to the first book for two weeks; after 14 October I will begin posting on Blind Defence with speculation about Forced Confessions. I hope, of course, that you will join me on this adventure so I am not talking to myself. And you can be sure HogwartsProfessor will continue to be the home of the best discussion of all things Rowling and Galbraith, especially with respect to Strike5.

Let me know in the comment boxes below if you’re ready to sign up for this side trip into Benson and De Vere!