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Marrinan, Patrick - 'Degrees of Guilt'
Hardback: 224 pages (June 2010) Publisher: Robert Hale Ltd ISBN: 0709090749

Once the top criminal lawyer at the Bar, Blair Armstrong has succumbed to an overwhelming melancholy following the loss of his wife. Now he is lured back from an early retirement to defend one last great cause and in the process, confront his demons.

This sizzling new novel from this new Dublin based author is a legal thriller of the finest quality that only authors such as Richard North Patterson and Philip Friedman in the USA and Jonathan Davies or John Mortimer in the UK are capable of writing. It is just after dawn on a cold November morning in Dublin and the Irish Police, the Gardai press the door-bell and urgently tap the door knocker but with no response. They break in the front door and rush into the house. In the first room they enter, there is a young man, naked, lying face down on a bed with an empty bottle of Jack Daniels whisky and glass along side on an adjacent bedside cabinet, together with two extinguished marijuana joints. The young man is unconscious, but with a faint pulse and they tip some cold water over him and he starts to stir. However, his response to their questions is not in English and they need to get a translator. In the meantime they discover a body of a middle-aged woman in another room, covered in blood with four stab wounds. A search of the unconscious man's room, reveals a bloodied knife quite close to his bed. However, the young man's body seems to be free of any blood stains.

The concerned police get an interpreter, Marina, whom they sometimes use, to speak to the young man and translate their questions and his answers and they also call the duty solicitor to protect the young man's legal interests, as it appears that he may have killed his own mother. The Legal Aid Solicitor that they call is a Dermot Molloy who realises that the case is very much more sophisticated than the "open and shut" type of work, which he has handled over the years. He realises that the murder charge that the young Russian immigrant man is facing, will require a particular, special defence, which only a top quality barrister can prepare when the case appears in the Irish equivalent of the British Crown Court. Molloy knows of such a man and he contacts Blair Armstrong SC. This Senior Counsel knows Malloy from their early student days, but they have not kept in touch. If they had, Malloy, would be very wary about using Armstrong, as following the loss of his wife with whom he discussed all his cases, he lost his nerve and had to pass everything over to junior counsel. He has become too fond of the bottle and knowing his own limitations, he was considering retirement.

The only reason he decides to take this one last case, is because he has developed a deep attraction for the Russian interpreter, Marina and he has to speak with her daily in order to question and prepare his client. Blair prepares his case and the case goes to Court but that is not the end of this fascinating story. Facts start to appear, soon after the end of the trial which if the defence team had known them before, may have put a completely different complexion on their case. The novel speeds to a very unusual but dramatic end.

Patrick Marrinan was born in Belfast and became a barrister and during his service there, acted during many major terrorist trials. He moved to Dublin, with his family in the 1980s and became a Senior Counsel in 2000. During his 30 years of practice he has been involved in over sixty murder cases and is widely regarded as one of the leading criminal advocates in the country. So the author is very knowledgeable on the Irish legal system which is of course based on the British adversarial one with the usual wigs and gowns and other historical conventions. He brings this experience to bear in this book.

I thought this book was one of the best that I have read all year. Once I started it, I found it very difficult to put down which is always a good indicator of quality. This expert author managed to provide an intriguing opening, an interesting middle and a cracking end. It is very unusual for an author to get all three parts of a novel so well written. I hope that there are many more quality books to come from Patrick Marrinan and I will look out for his name in the future as he deserves every success for his hard work. If you enjoy a good, well-written and intelligent legal thriller you need look no further - you should buy this one.

Terry Halligan, England
December 2010

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 23/01/2011 10:44