I have not read any books by John Fairfax before, so this came as a bit of a surprise. Choosing a tag-line - “William Benson is a criminal barrister with a difference. He has a murder conviction of his own” - takes some beating.
We are introduced to William on the first pages. He is a young man at University who has got into a fight with Paul Harbeton, and although he had several opportunities to leave Harbeton alone, he is found to have hunted the man down and killed him. He is sentenced to life.
So there is the initial set up. Later, we learn that he told a trainee lawyer, Tess de Vere that he aspired to a career in the law, and although many tried to put him off over the years, he studied hard while in prison, and when he was released to make his way in the community, he managed to acquire the necessary qualifications. He could not find a position in Chambers so that he could gain the experience he needed in order to be able to become a full-time barrister; but then a woman accused of murder asks for him specifically, and the trainee lawyer he had met all those years ago is prepared to work with him to try to produce a defence.
Sarah Collingstone is accused of having an affair with her boss, and then, after an angry exchange, she is supposed to have broken a bottle of beer and stabbed him with it; watching him as he died.
She is a model witness. She has a son with a severe mental disability, a father who looked after her through thick and thin while fighting for help from Social Services, and when William looks at her he can see himself all those years ago when he too was accused of murder. The only problem with her defence is that her DNA is on the bottle that killed her boss.
This is a great thriller with some superb characters peppered through the story. No one is truly who they seem to be, and the basic structure and concepts rather reminded me of TRUSTEE FROM THE TOOLROOM, in that a lone individual on foreign territory could receive so much help at every turn. Not, I hasten to add, that it was unbelievable at all. The plot was utterly believable, the court scenes gripping, benefitting from the fact that the author John Fairfax was a practising barrister for some years.