Review: HARRY CURRY: THE MURDER BOOK by Stuart Littlemore

Harry Curry - Littlemore, Stua19912fThis is the second book to feature the eponymous character, a Sydney barrister known for his blunt talking and somewhat anti-establishment leanings and Arabella Engineer, his sometime junior partner and lover. Between them the lawyers tackle a series of murder cases with the focus being on different legal aspects to the cases rather than the crimes at the centre of those cases. There is, for example, a man who unexpectedly pleads guilty to a swag of unsolved murders and Arabella is concerned with trying to attract a sentence lesser than life without the possibility of parole for their client. Another case involves a young man being charged with the murder of the paedophile who abused him for more than a decade but it’s the intricacies of whether the death is the direct result of the client’s actions or not and, if so, whether such action was performed with forethought that occupy Harry and Arabella on this occasion.

I imagine the book offers a realistic picture of the way the legal system operates in this country. Its author is a QC (still active) and there’s every reason to suppose he’s put his extensive knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of the system to good use. Focusing only on legal questions, such as how one might handle a case so that it attracts one kind of sentence over another or how to build a case requiring extensive specialist medical knowledge, is a relatively rare thing in crime fiction and one I took a while to warm to. On reflection though it was a good approach as it allowed the author to delve in-depth into issues that “we” (i.e. the non-lawyers in the readership) only ‘know’ from a steady diet of Law & Order episodes. I did find that the lack of attention to the crimes – and by extension the victims and/or perpetrators of those crimes – made the book a little dry in places but I suspect that my need for a more emotional connection to the people at the heart of these stories is (a) one of several reasons I’d make a truly lousy lawyer and (b) not relevant as the book aims, I think, to do something legitimately different than reveal the ‘why’ of the series of crimes.

The characterisations are a little obvious, with Harry Curry’s main personality traits (ugly, irascible, intolerant, clever) being stamped on the book’s cover (literally), and not particularly deep but they are engaging.The relationship between Harry and Arabella has its tensions with the professional side of it requiring Harry to take on a mentoring role while on the personal side both are cautious and still learning where they stand, especially as they are at such different points in their careers. Harry’s decision to sell his Sydney home and move part-time to a farm in the hinterland puts an added pressure on the couple. Their dialogue though is a treat, even if more aspirational than realistic. It is full of the sorts of clever, witty and appropriate lines that everyone wishes they could use in real life but usually only thinks of hours after the need has passed.  

My nagging fears (which put me off reading the first book) that this series might be nothing more than a clever bit of marketing fluff from its celebrity author proved completely unfounded, though I do have a suspicion that one of the biggest markets for it is members of the Sydney legal fraternity who must pass many happy moments working out which real-life people and cases the fictional ones are based on. But other readers should enjoy it too, especially locals, like me, have almost by osmosis absorbed up a lot of American law over the years and are interested in an Australian take on the subject. There is by the end a real sense that the reader has been provided with genuine insight into the practice of law in this country and the complexities of all cases, even the supposedly open and shut ones. I admit my liking for this one appeared as a slow burn rather than an immediate rush of affection but in the end I found it a very satisfying read and one I would recommend to those in the market for something a little out of the ordinary.

Publisher: Harper Collins [2012]
ISBN: 9780732293437
Length: 328 pages
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