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.

Three structural notes:

(1) It’s An A-B-C-B-A Chiasm: The book is in five labeled parts and it is very hard to miss the bracketing going on. The first and fifth parts are titled ‘Two Days Before the Trial’ and “Who the Hell Killed Andrew Bealing?” (Archie Congreve, Esq.) and relate the before and after trial sections of the book. There are important scenes with Benson’s exotic psychologist in only these parts and we see Papillon in the garbage here, as well. The second and fourth parts are titled ‘The Case for the Prosecution’ and ‘The Case for the Defence’ and these are the mirrored parts of the trial itself. The fifth and shortest part is the third and central piece, “Have a Quiet Weekend” (Mr Justice Kenneth Oakshot, R. vs Collingstone). Just as the story title in being a quotation as is the fifth points to the finish, so critical pieces for the case’s resolution and the wow story of Benson’s family — Meet Eddie and learn his story! — are shared here.

(2) The Chapter Breakdown: Fairfax numbers his five parts and within them he suggests there are sixty seven chapters. This is deceptive, however. Each part except for the first begins with an unnumbered italicized story about Needles from Benson’s memories of his first days in Her Majesty’s Prisons (the Prologue ends with a Needles memory hence its absence in the first part). Adding the Prologue and the four Needles introductions to the last four parts, there are seventy-two rather than sixty-seven chapters. This is only important if you think as I do that finding the story pivot or turn with some precision is important. If you divide 67 by 2, ignoring the prologue and italicized parts, you get a story turn in either chapter 33 or 34; dividing 72 by 2 and counting every chapter, puts the half-way point in the opening of Part 3 and Needles’ ramblings there. An argument can be made for either, but I’ll suggest that a third possibility is at least as likely. The third and central part has five parts and the third or central piece of the center part is where we learn about Eddie’s accident and that Benson knew the man he was accused of murdering and that he had been looking for, perhaps hunting for him in London.

(3) The Murderer in the Mirror: Both Benson and Tess are struck by how much Benson’s story is mirrored by the case of Sarah Collingstone, from the odds against them at trial and specific details of the accusation and defence to the presence of a handicapped child. The mirroring or chiastic structure of both the novel’s parts and its chapters raises the possibility that the whole of the series narrative is contained in the solution to the Collingstone case, namely, that there will be revelations about Benson’s relationship with the person he is supposed to have murdered, that there is knowing deception with respect to Eddie’s accident and who is responsible for it, and that, even in light of these withheld facts, there is another more credible murderer than the person accused and, in Benson’s case, convicted. The father who does not admit to the killing because he has to take care of the handicapped child…

Who do we meet and learn all about in the central chapter of the central part? Benson’s dad. If Fairfax is setting us up with the father being the murderer rather than just foreshadowing the revelation of who really killed Andrew Bealing, the solution is right there in the center.

Your comments and corrections are coveted, as always!


  1. Just a couple of notes here to compound my prophetic arrogance, which is to say, predictions predicated on structure alone.

    I want to add here the form-is-meaning predictions that:

    (a) the inserted story of Needles weaved through the five parts suggests that the series will be five books (or that is how long we will have to wait to find out Benson’s father did the crime for which Will did time) and

    (b) that Needles’ death by suicide when Will is freed from his cell, a remembered event offered as prologue to Summary Justice Part 5, means that Papa Benson will do the same after Eddie learns his secret in the fifth Benson/De Vere novel.

    Time stamp…

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