Marrinan, Patrick - 'Scapegoat'
SCAPEGOAT, the first novel by eminent Irish counsel Patrick Marrinan, is a legal thriller in the broadest sense, focussing on the police officers, witnesses, accused, lawyers and others caught up in a murder investigation but with the most crucial action taking place in the courtroom.
The murder victim is a young Irish student, Johnny O'Shea, who is stabbed and mutilated on a night out in the heart of gay Dublin. Although O'Shea wasn't gay, the police suspect a homophobic killing due to the location of the crime. Sergeant Pat O'Hara is first on the scene, and is sent by his superior, Inspector Bannigan, to break the news to the victim's parents. Inspector Bannigan is hostile to O'Hara, who is somewhat of a pariah on the force. He used to be on the Murder Squad, but after a murder conviction was overturned due to an alleged forced confession he obtained, the Squad was disbanded, and the disgraced O'Hara moved away from homicide work to working in a rapid response unit on the streets of Dublin. In view of his experience, the local superintendent, who respects O'Hara's extensive experience, allows O'Hara some access to the investigation, appointing him family liaison officer, as O'Hara has formed a surprising rapport with the victim's mother.
O'Hara is a principled man, with a strong desire to obtain justice for murder victims, but is also prepared to be ruthless and unethical in bringing a case against perpetrators, and has a hair-trigger temper towards those who get in his way. Determined to find a lead of his own in the investigation, O'Hara pursues his hunch that Saudi Arabian Dr Mohammed Barouche, owner of an unusual designer watch found at the scene of the crime, was the perpetrator. When Barouche is brought in for questioning, he confesses shortly after a cell visit by O'Hara, but later recants this confession, claiming O'Hara intimidated him into making the confession. Barouche has a shady past; he was involved with terrorists plotting a bomb attack in the US, but turned CIA informant after a drugs bust in a bar, before starting a new life in Ireland as a doctor at the St Vincent hospital. Barouche claims that O'Hara blackmailed him into confessing by threatening to reveal his CIA links, leaving the reader to ponder whether O'Hara has deliberately tried to frame Barouche, or whether Barouche is simply an adept liar, having already proved capable of leading a double life.
Meanwhile Gerry Hickey, Barouche's barrister, finds his private life poses a risky distraction from his defence work. Gerry has taken up with a beautiful Czech dominatrix, as a form of escapism from the financial pressures of his life with spoilt suburban wife Emma, and carries on seeing her despite attempting to seek treatment from a psychologist. But when the Vice Squad finds out about this relationship, Gerry comes under enormous pressure, personally and professionally. Despite this lapse into venality, Gerry is also principled; he is uninterested in the trappings of money, and in the larger sums he could be earn by doing more lucrative commercial legal work, or by tapping his wealthy father in law for a loan. But his sexual indiscretions put him in an extremely awkward position.
The plotting and characters of SCAPEGOAT are clearly strongly influenced by Marrinan's legal career. The novel, told from various different perspectives, but primarily those of O'Hara, Gerry and Barouche, cracks along at a fair old pace, to a dramatic courtroom denouement. The court scenes, including the dramatic denouement are pivotal, and the dynamics of the relationships between barrister and instructing solicitor and judges rings very true. Despite the short length of the novel, there is a surprising amount of subtlety in characterisation of the principal players in this novel. Marrinan gives a rounded portrayal of each of their strengths and weaknesses. SCAPEGOAT is a remarkably assured and skilfully written debut novel, a quality read.
Laura Root, England