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Settled out of Court by Henry Cecil

Created: Mon Mar 22 17:05:41 2010 | Last modified: Mon Mar 22 17:05:41 2010

Rating: ******----

Settled Out of Court

This is a bizarre mixture of fantasy and legal fiction by Henry Cecil. An eccentric millionaire who has an almost physical aversion to lies, Lonsdale Walsh is accused of murder and is convicted on perjured evidence. Naturally he is very upset and is determined to fight the verdict. He tries every available option legally: he appeals against his sentence and it fails. He goes to the Home Secretary and his petition is rejected. Finally, he decides that the only way to obtain justice is to escape from prison and stage a re-trial on his own terms. This he manages to achieve with the help of fellow prisoner "Spikey" and his daughter Angela.

This is a very strange novel because of the almost absurd mixture of reality and fantasy which Henry Cecil manages to weave into the story. The very fact that a High Court Judge of repute can be made a prisoner in his own home makes this hard to digest. And to add to that, when this Judge actually proceeds to inquire into his side of the story makes it incredible. It becomes increasingly clear that Walsh has been framed by his arch-enemy Mrs. Jo Barnwell who is determined that he should pay for his crime.

The story proceeds at a good pace, but Henry Cecil is unable to create an atmosphere of tension and suspense unlike a typical crime fiction author. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that he is caught between the legal technicalities which comes to his writing naturally and a desire to weave a suspenseful and fantastic tale. However, the best part of the story comes at the end (literally at the last page). The twist in the tale makes quite a bizarre ending to a funny tale. Not too many authors could have spun out such a tale. This is what makes Henry Cecil unique.

The negative points are that, unlike a few other Henry Cecil novels, this one doesn't have too much humour and maintains a sober, serious note throughout. However, one can trace the subtle irony which Cecil tries to introduce into the novel. Cecil, as always, takes up a few legal-ethical issues to discuss in this novel, namely - how can a prisoner, who is wrongly convicted, secure justice when all his legal recourses are exhausted? Can justice be secured through illegal means? And how much is he and his accomplices in crime morally and legally responsible for their acts to secure justice? While Cecil makes no attempt to discuss it in first person, his views come out quite clearly through the mouths of the characters in this book.

While I would recommend this book, I suggest that people who haven't read Henry Cecil before start with a different book.