“Private Prosecution” by Lisa Ellery is a relatively short crime novel that nevertheless lands a substantial punch. I enjoyed it a lot.
There’s a whole sub-genre of crime novels that could be described as “lawyer sticks their nose in too far”. This sub-genre thrives in America but isn’t seen too often in Australia. That makes this novel stand out a little, especially as it’s good enough to stand up with some of the best of the genre.
Andrew Deacon is shattered to discover he’s a suspect in the murder of the woman he spent last night with. It would shake anyone, but it’s particularly distressing when you’re a lawyer in the Department of Public Prosecution. It rather tends to undermine your professional position.
Andrew is quickly cleared of the crime, but it still preys on his mind. He concludes that the victim’s brother-in-law is responsible for her murder. But he’s Sam Godfrey SC, one of the more powerful lawyers in the state. It’s not easy to get the police or family to believe him, and it’ll be even harder to prove.
Like most crime novels, the basic template will be familiar to anyone who reads a lot in the genre. That rarely matters much in a well-written crime novel, and this one is very well written.
Ellery brings veracity to Andrew’s knowledge of the law and his daily interactions with police and defence lawyers which is presumably born from her own legal background. It’s subtly woven into the story, almost unnoticeable, but it’s important because it helps make the story feel very real.
This is not a whodunnit – it’s a howdunnit, and whydunnit. We know quite early who was responsible for Lily’s death, but it’s a matter of working out how and why and getting the evidence to convict him.
One minor flaw is that I spotted a part of the “why” very early in the novel, far earlier than I think I was meant to. This took the wind out of the sails of a revelation a hundred pages later. However, there were other aspects I didn’t catch. Ellery will keep most readers absorbed as Andrew slowly unwinds the details of how and why Lily was murdered. I certainly found it hard to put down.
Andrew’s knowledge of the law and the course events is likely to take makes his decisions more realistic and understandable. In some crime novels, I spend a good deal of time wondering why the protagonist doesn’t simply go to the police. Here Andrew’s awareness of the limitations of the police, and what they need in the way of evidence to be effective, means we understand his thought process, and the whole thing seems more credible.
“Private Prosecution” is a relatively short novel, but tightly written and convincingly carried off. It’s one of the better Australian crime novels I’ve read of late. It will appeal most to crime readers, but readers who look for strong characters are also likely to appreciate this.
A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading Private Prosecution by Lisa Ellery. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.
ISBN: 9781925 816730
Copy courtesy of Fremantle Press (2021)
I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember, and I love sharing that joy.
I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, across all genres. There’s not much I won’t at least try. I’ve been an enthusiastic book reviewer for years. I particularly enjoy discovering writers new to me, and sharing good writing with others.
My career has included time spent writing and editing technical documents, but it’s fiction that really moves me. I’ve reviewed for a number of different outlets over the years, and have been a judge in literary competitions.
I’m now raising little bookworms of my own, which brings a whole new kind of joy to sharing books.
More of my reviews can be found on my review blog www.otherdreamsotherlives.home.blog .