Trial of Passion

by William Deverell,
382 pages,
ISBN: 0770427812

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Brief Reviews
by Michael Fitz-James

A senior Vancouver criminal lawyer, Arthur Beauchamp (pronounced "Beecham"), has decided to hang up his gown and retire to peaceful-but-wacky Garibaldi, one of B.C.'s scenic Gulf Islands. Fighting his twin demons of past alcoholism and an upcoming divorce from his chronically unfaithful wife, he sets out to rebuild his life as a reborn hippie, but a highly publicized crime draws him back to the courtroom one last time.

Jonathan O'Donnell, the handsome young acting dean of U.B.C.'s law school is charged with the sado-masochistic rape of a sultry twenty-three-year-old student, Kimberley Martin. She's seen running naked, smeared with her own lipstick, from O'Donnell's house at five in the morning. Later she accuses the prof of tying her up and assaulting her. She has cuts and bruises on her wrists and ankles. Did the dean do it? If O'Donnell's convicted, he faces some serious prison time for the alleged misdeed, especially in these days of gender sensitivity and political correctness.

All this naturally leads to some hypnotic courtroom drama, with a surprising ending loosely based on real-life case law.

William Deverell is himself a Vancouver lawyer, but lately practises only legal fiction. He's the creator of television's Street Legal series and has written nine previous books with legal subjects.

In Trial of Passion (McClelland & Stewart, 391 pages, $29.99 cloth), Deverell very cleverly tells his story partially through the mechanism of documents disclosed by the prosecutor. Under Canadian law the prosecution must disclose to the accused all witness statements, police reports, or any evidence that might assist the defence. While in a criminal case, the defence has no obligation to tip its hand, Deverell lets us peek into the defence file as well. Revealing the documents for both sides provides a fine device to keep the plot chugging along, with the reader discovering, alongside Arthur, the twisted folds of Regina v. O'Donnell.

Against this legal backdrop, Deverell serves up the bucolic romantic sub-plot of Arthur trying to woo (his word) the widow neighbour-lady on Garibaldi, Margaret Blake-the allusion to the poet William is doubtless intentional. In fact, there's a fair amount of literary allusion going on in the novel. The whole structure of Deverell's novel resembles one of the darker comedies of Shakespeare, say, Measure for Measure or Much Ado about Nothing. The formal world of downtown Vancouver and its law courts is contrasted with the sylvan world of the island, complete with a couple of "rude mechanicals" thrown in for comic relief.

But while the courtroom scenes are well done, Deverell is less successful with island events, especially the wooing of widow Blake, where there's some unintentionally funny writing. Exhibit A. Arthur speaking:

"She doesn't respond, but sips her mint tea in silence. I feel I have committed a gaffe, and know not how to make amends, and so I just stare into the fading light of the western sky where Hesperus, god of the evening star, has lit his lamp."

Really. Exhibit B, Arthur again in the company of widow Blake:

"I scramble to my feet too quickly, and suddenly feel quite woozy and out of breath, and I think, Oh no, not now, not another stroke, and I reach out an arm and clutch the fireplace mantle. Then it passes. It wasn't my heart, just the sudden lack of oxygen one suffers when standing too quickly."

Then there's Deverell's slight tendency to show off, something not uncommon in trial lawyers of all kinds, whether they write novels or not. When reading Trial of Passion, bring Mr. Dictionary along; you'll need him for offerings like "dithyramb", "callipygian", "gallimaufry", and "bloviating". But the book's flaws are more literary misdemeanours than indictable offences. Overall, Trial of Passion is a terrific book and an enjoyable read.

Michael Fitz-James


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