Summary Justice by John Fairfax

This is a novel that centres around an interesting premise: a barrister working on a murder case, desperate to prove his client’s innocence, is particularly driven because he’s been convicted of murder himself.

Having spent years in jail, William Benson is now out, and has set up his own law firm because no one else will hire him. With the help of Archie, another ex-con, and Tess de Vere, who first met him at his own trial all those years ago, he sets out to demonstrate his client’s innocence in the same court room where he was convicted.

It’s an interesting idea, and the book has already been optioned to Potboiler Television for the rights to a series that will focus on Benson and his cases.

Summary Justice by John Fairfax
Summary Justice by John Fairfax

I had high hopes for this book, which unfortunately it didn’t quite meet. The one line I liked came on page 8:

“I didn’t ask if I was being realistic. I just want to know if it’s possible.”

I like a seemingly hopeless case that triumphs over the status quo. A lot of us like an underdog story, and Benson is precisely that. But the idea for the story itself isn’t enough to redeem this one.

The characters are two-dimensional, the execution of the storyline seems lazy, and the twists are too many and too desperate: some very easy to see coming, others so far-fetched as to bring the rest of the story down.

A lot of the characterisation relied on stereotypes, which I didn’t like, and a lot of the time it felt like Fairfax was reaching for things to explain actions. So much of a good novel is about not patronising the reader; leaving some things to the imagination, letting them do some of the work. Summary Justice assumes the reader needs to have everything explained in excruciating detail, to the point where I often wondered whether Fairfax was just desperately trying to add more words in order to fill pages (something I’m sympathetic to,  having experienced it myself).

As I reached the end of the book and was finally about to find out whether Benson’s client was innocent or not, I found I didn’t care. I skim-read the last few pages, which were about as disappointing as the rest of the book, and then closed it, thankful I won’t have to read it again.

Overall, therefore, I wouldn’t recommend this one. I think it’s an interesting idea, but it might be one of those rare cases where the resulting TV series is actually better than the book itself.

Summary Justice was published by Little Brown on the 2nd of March 2017 and is available in paperback, hardback and ebook from £8.99. 

I received a review copy of Summary Justice from the publisher. All views are my own. 

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