November 17th, 2020

Re-issued this year, my satirical take on two genres: thriller and whodunit

Most crime fiction depends for its success upon our belief in an ordered universe that can only be disrupted temporarily. The return to order is achieved by the punishment of the villain and a ceremony of purification that may take the form of a family reunification, a wedding, an act of generosity, or even an altered will. All this is obvious, but things appear to be changing; the universe that is disturbed by villainy is not necessarily ordered at all, and may even be grossly corrupt.

This can be said, cheerfully, of William Deverell’s delicious novel Kill All the Lawyers, for everyone in the story appears to be morally imperfect and definitely self-serving. A lawyer is killed shortly after he has astonished everyone by successfully defending an undoubtedly guilty client. A second lawyer who has a similar success is shot at, and the legal community begins to think that someone out there is attempting to correct undesirable verdicts by sentencing lawyers to death. Brian Pomeroy, whose recent moment of glory has given him the opportunity to take time off to write a novel, disappears to Costa Rica where he studies Widgeon’s how-to book, The Art of the Whodunit, and writes letters to his wife, his colleagues, and others about the scene he has left and about his own hedonistic existence. The letters are such as to suggest that the detective novel he is writing may not be wholly satisfactory stylistically; his opinions about the murders are also rather unsatisfactory; his vitality and ebullience, however, are delightful, and the social comedy is hilarious.

This is a brilliantly wrought novel, ingenious, entertaining, and continually surprising. The denouement is marvellous. Deverell deserves an award for this one.

Robin Skelton, Books in Canada

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