According to the Evidence by Henry Cecil
Created: Sun Mar 21 13:32:50 2010 | Last modified: Sun Mar 21 13:32:50 2010
Henry Cecil's legal fiction is quite fascinating for two reasons: first, he's just such a good writer and secondly they have the stamp of authenticity because Cecil himself was a Barrister and then a County Court judge in England in the early and mid 20th century.
This particular book, "According to the Evidence" is about a serial killer Gilbert Essex who gets away with his crime because the prosecution couldn't get sufficient evidence to convict him even though there are strong suspicions that he is, in fact the guilty party. But then when the law acquits him, he goes on to commit two more murders and then finally some public-minded citizen decides to put an end to his life by murdering him. Alec Morland is the obvious suspect, but since the police don't have enough evidence against him to charge him, Mr. Ambrose Low decides to take a hand in getting him brought to justice, tried and then getting him acquitted! This would ensure that Mr. Morland is free for the rest of his life without the constant fear of discovery or conviction. However there's a catch: Alec Morland is a very poor liar and if he gives evidence at his trial, it would be most likely that he would secure his own conviction!
A fascinating story of how the Law works, Henry Cecil raises a lot of ethical questions with regard to the legal profession which are as valid today as they were then. For example, does a man who murders a known criminal and a danger to society to be considered a criminal or a hero? And how much evidence is really needed to convict a man. In other words, what is the extent of proof required to convict people of serious crimes? Henry Cecil certainly addresses these questions and brings to light the somewhat ironical contradictions in Law.
The story flows smoothly and Cecil is particularly good at bringing the courtroom scenes to life with his insights and authentic rendering. Particularly, one tends to notice a kind of dispassion in his writing which is typical of how Law courts function in reality. There is quite a bit of tension and emotion in the story as it builds up, but the court scenes are quite dispassionate and normal as in real life: no fuss, no drama. At the same time Henry Cecil does not drown the reader in legal mumbo-jumbo and the book is very readable even for a layman. He has the ability to explain the Law in very simple terms and this adds quite a bit to his narrative qualities.
On the whole, a very good novel. I recommend it especially for those who are interested in the Law and legal fiction. Even for the rest of us who enjoy good fiction, I would suggest this.