The Brief, by Simon Michael, brings to mind various vintage crime series that I have enjoyed watching on TV over the years. It is set in 1960s London, a period when the roads in central London could be driven through with relative ease and public payphones were a necessary aid to communication. The workings of the courts of law, with barristers’ chambers and their rarefied procedures, provide a fascinating backdrop at variance to the more common use of clever detective.
Charles Holborne, is an up and coming barrister willing to take on cases representing base criminals and lowlifes, much to the chagrin of his well connected colleagues. He was raised a Jew in the East End of the city, another factor that sets him apart. His beautiful wife, Henrietta, is from a wealthy and titled family but has grown bored with her hard working husband who she married as an act of defiance to her philandering father. Now she too indulges in affairs.
The story opens with the release from prison of a career criminal with few scruples. He plans a heist which he believes will enable him to retire. When it all goes wrong, Charles is tasked with defending him and his accomplice. It is just another case for Charles, but creates a dangerous enemy.
Back at chambers there are rumblings of discontent. An older member is called to account for his treatment of a pretty, young clerk. Other members voice resentment that a Jew is enjoying increasing success with the financial benefits this brings, which they believe should be theirs. Henrietta has been openly flirting with more than one of her husband’s colleagues. The choices she makes result in heated exchanges.
I have never understood anti-Semitism, how Jews appear to be so widely disliked by segments of society when their supposed crimes appear to be little more than nepotism and financial success. As these are also prevalent amongst society’s most privileged I find their rancour hard to comprehend. Nevertheless, it exists and affects this story’s protagonist. When Charles finds himself framed for murder it is hard to know which of his enemies, from which sphere of society, has taken action.
The police desire speedy convictions and some are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their aims. When Charles realises that the crime he is accused of will not be properly investigated he determines to find out what has happened for himself. His methods may be risky but with the death penalty still a potential punishment he feels he has nothing to lose.
The tale is fast moving. The writing is polished and flows with ease. The author has taken real case notes and court documents as inspiration. The narrative from inside the courts are a fine addition to the tale.
The evocation of time and place are a reminder of how far we have progressed in just a few decades, and also of how certain attitudes have not changed. I am looking forward to reading more of Charles Holborne’s exploits as the proposed series progresses.
I enjoyed this book and am happy to recommend it. An absorbing and entertaining read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Urbane.