Alibi for a Judge by Henry Cecil
Created: Sun Mar 21 13:35:06 2010 | Last modified: Sun Mar 21 13:35:06 2010
Mr. Justice Carstairs is a chronic worrier - always rethinking his decisions and never being able to make his mind up whether he was right or wrong, fair or unfair. He is also not a particularly good or fair judge and knows it too well. And so after a man called Burford is convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment by him, he starts to have sleepless nights constantly thinking about his decision, particularly in view of the fact that he disallowed the defence (at a late stage) from bringing forward the accused's wife as a witness. He is also troubled by the fact that he made extremely prejudiced comments during the course of the trial which might presumably have influenced the mind of the jury members. He then takes it upon himself to correct his mistake and is faced with great difficulties. And so, he approaches the wife of the accused, Mrs. Lesley Burford, a very attractive woman and offers to do all he can to help her husband. She is extremely grateful for his offer and they proceed to investigate the case together. The only trouble is, the judge knows that Mrs. Burford is hiding something and telling him lies on certain matters. Should he go on with his efforts or stop wasting his time and compromising his own career in the process by associating himself with questionable characters? That's what this story is all about.
Henry Cecil shines in this suspenseful novel where everything seems to build up to something, but there is not much by way of action. The reader is constantly kept engaged by the strange behaviour of a judge who turns against his own decision and goes to ridiculous (and improbable) extents to prove himself wrong. And along the way, Henry Cecil's critical view of justice and the way it should not only be rendered, but manifestly seen to be rendered is quite well put forward. He asks some very pertinent questions about the behaviour of judges during criminal trials and how they can (and sometimes do) use their position of power to influence juries unfairly.
There is a definite air of fantasy about the whole story. At the same time, the suspense comes in the form of whether the whole episode will ruin the judge's future career on the Bench or whether he will emerge triumphant in the end and Burford will be let out of prison. Using a clever narrative technique, Henry Cecil keeps the reader guessing right up to the end about the truth of the whole matter. I would definitely rate this quite high as far as suspense goes, but readers who like serious crime novels might be slightly disappointed by the tone of the whole book. It's not too heavy a read and has plenty of humour (Cecil style) to keep the mood light throughout. A definite recommendation.