Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Michael Robertson, The Baker Street Jurors

Michael Robertson, The Baker Street Jurors
St. Martin's Press/Minotaur. 2016
ISBN (hardcover) 978-1-250-06006-8

The 5th mystery featuring Reggie (a barrister) and Nigel (a solicitor) Heath. 

The Heath Brothers share office space in a large office building on the sight of 221 Baker Street, and, in exchange for reduced rent, have to answer letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes.  And generally a letter addressed to Holmes triggers the events in the book.  As it does in this one.  But the letter is not asking Holmes for assistance—it’s a jury summons addressed to him at the Baker Street address, and comes in the same mail as a summons addressed to Nigel.  (Reggie, by the way, is still on his extended honeymoon.)  Nigel makes a paper airplane out of the Holmes summons and launches it toward the wastebasket; it soars, instead, out the window.  Nigel figures no harm can come of it, because, after all, how can a fictional character respond to a jury summons? 

Nigel, of course, turns  up along with more than 20 other prospective jurors, and his number comes up for the trial of England’s greatest living cricket player, who has been charged with the murder of his wife.  The process for the selection of a jury in England is rather different than that in the US, in that the lawyers involved cannot directly challenge a juror (they can ask questions, but the decision is up to the judge); the idea is to select a jury that has been randomly selected.  The trial procedures are also different; among other things, during the questioning of witnesses, a juror may submit a question to the judge, who may (but only may) put the question to the witness.  This comes up several times, with interesting results.  There are 12 regular jurors selected, and 5 alternates, of whom Nigel is one (of course), despite the objection of the prosecuting attorney.

As the testimony proceeds, jurors start dropping like flies, and ere long, Nigel is no longer an alternate.  In fact, he winds up proposing a question, the judge puts the question, and the result is that the judge, the attorneys, the courtroom officials, and the jurors travel to a holiday (more or less) location.  Where things get really dicey. 

My only complaint about Robertson is that he does not publish quickly enough.  He writes well, and (as with Thomas) evokes London in the 21st century quite nicely; he also does a nice job on the locale of the jury’s trip.  [And, just to demonstrate that this book, and the precious book reviewed here (Fatal Enquiry) share something, one of the jurors (a violin-playing, pipe-smoking gent named Siger—short for Sigerson) cannot help but remind you of a 19th century literary creation.]  This series is well worth reading, and I think this may be the best so far.  (It’s not very long, 260 pages; I read it in about 3.5 hours.)

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