Review: The Night Lawyer (Alex Churchill)

This book could not decide what it wanted to be. There are three stories here: one is Sophie Angel, barrister, who works one night a week at a local paper to review the stories they’re about to post online. The rest of the time,she works on the defense side of the legal system. The second is a mystery surrounding Sophie’s past in the USSR, and the death of her uncle Kiril: her Russian father, a musician, defected while on tour, and her English mother, with Sophie, walked to the English Embassy in Moscow and left the country that way. The third is the well worn trope of a woman who marries a man (who cheated on his wife with her) who everyone but her knows is cheating on her, but she has trouble believing it.

Any one of these things would have been interesting – in fact, it would be great if the writing duo delved into the Russian story, because I’d read that in a heartbeat.

There are probably some spoilers in this, so if you want to read this, I’d skip to the bottom.

As it stands, we get a prologue that is a bit creepy, but not really necessary, in my opinion. The actual first chapters deal with Sophie turning down the defense of a violent rapist (and I suppose we’re supposed to believe that the rapist, who has escaped prison that day has turned up at the newspaper somehow, in that prologue). The next part deals with someone buying the paper where Sophie works as the night lawyer. The wife of the buyer is Russian, and there seems to be some history between her and Sophie, although Sophie has little memory of her time in Russia. It occurred to me that since we get only a couple of scenes at the paper that this whole paper thing and the buyout of it was done just to get these two characters together.

Lydia (the Russian wife) asks Sophie to defend a young man accused of rape. His mother, and the young man, of course say he is innocent, and he may very well be. This part of the book is heavily focused on the legal system in England, and it’s heavy on jargon from that system. If you don’t know what solicitors and barristers are, or what a dock is in a courtroom, you may get a little lost, but it’s still readable. Clearly, one (or both) of the writers has a great interest in the legal system and how it is (as in the US) heavily skewed against poor people.

Throughout the book, we get glimpses of her life with Theo, her husband. He’s always “working”, and when Sophie enters the dressing room to change into robes for court, other women look at her with pity. This reader spotted Theo as a cheat right off – after all, if someone cheats on their partner to be with you, they will most certainnly cheat on you to be with someone else. Sophie, though, waves it all away, even after finding a lipstick in Theo’s car on the floorboard. Of course he has an easy excuse for it, as he does every time she is passively questioning him about it. Ultimately, and thankfully, she finally gets a clue and kicks him to the curb – she leaves.

But, since she’s broke, and because she thinks this dude somehow means it when he says they should try again, she moves back into the house. She thinks she hears an argument, but is sleepy and ignores it. Then she wakes up, tells Theo there’s someone in the house, but of course he does not get up. She goes downstairs and the escaped, violent rapist is there to take her away. The fight scene there is pretty good, and it’s nice that she offs the bad guy – no thanks to Theo, who hid in the bathroom and dialed 999 (the British version of 911).

Sophie discovers she’s pregnant, but leaves Theo again anyway (hooray!). Lydia (remember her? The Russian wife of the buyer f the paper?) tells Sophie to come with her to Russia to look into the disappearance of her uncle Kiril. She does, and then, mystery solved by her memory of the time being teased out, she returns to London and decides she’s home. Presumably, she goes about her business from that moment forward.

The writing is fine, and the descriptions of he British legal system are interesting. There’s a lot of editorializing by the authors via Sophie about it. It’s an okay book – not great, but not unreadable.

I’d have liked it better had there been one story picked of these versus cramming three into it. Alas, that was not the case, and alas, this one didn’t do it for me. Your mileage may vary.

Two stars of five. Thanks to NetGalley and RedDoor Press for the reading copy.

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