Criminal lawyer Robbie Munro is back home, living with his widowed, ex-policeman dad and his new found daughter, Tina. Life at the practice isn’t going well, neither is the love life he regularly confesses to his junior, Joanna. Then again, on the subject of Joanna, Robbie may be the last to know. When one of his more dubious clients leaves a mysterious box for him to look after, and a helicopter comes down with two fatalities, events take a much more sinister turn, and all of this is complicated by the rape case he has to defend.
As I head for Bloody Scotland this weekend, a Scottish crime novel review to get us in the mood.
I’ve socialised at the bar with a few criminal advocates in my time and they always tell the best stories. So I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read an advance copy of Present Tense, the latest novel in the Best Defence mystery series. William McIntyre is a Scottish criminal lawyer and so is his protagonist, Robbie Munro. Robbie is a criminal solicitor whose Linlithgow practice survives by the grace of the Legal Aid Board; he is a jobbing solicitor doing his best to prove the innocence of his clients and flying by the seat of his pants.
Robbie is in his late 30’s and still lives with his father, a retired member of the Lothian and Borders police service and his young daughter, Tina. Robbie hasn’t been too lucky in love, but he loves his daughter. Robbie’s brother, Malcolm, used to be a professional footballer until an injury forced him out of the game and now he is a sports broadcaster. For all that they jibe at each other, the Munros are a pretty close knit family.
Robbie Munro is a pretty typical small firm lawyer, relying on legal aid cases to make his living, dealing with some tricky characters who might give pause for thought in social situations. So when the Legal Aid Board pays an unexpected audit visit his livelihood is put in jeopardy as they tell him he won’t be allowed to take on any more legal aid cases.
Robbie Munro, the star of the series, juggles his job, his young daughter, and his appalling love life. Written with a light touch and some lively humour, Present Tense deals with two cases; a helicopter crash in suspicious circumstances involving Billy Paris, an old client (breach of the peace and assault) who stops by Robbie’s office to leave a parcel in his safe keeping and who is subsequently found murdered . Billy had been working at a private airport on the north east coast of Scotland at St Edzell Bay, when a helicopter piloted by the son of millionaire owner of Thorn Aero Systems, Sir Philip Thorn, had crashed killing both Jerry Thorn and his girlfriend, Madeleine. With the potential for the first spaceport in Scotland, there is government interest and involvement and for the Secretary of State, Kirkton Perch, one too many conspiracy theories are flying around.
The other case is at the High Court; a rape charge involving a sixteen-year-old girl and her neighbour being defended by his colleague and legal assistant, Joanna with the assistance of Fiona Faye Q.C. Everything about this case has the ring of authenticity and indeed, in a touching tribute to the late Paul McBride Q.C., McIntyre recounts in his author’s note the tale of a very similar case he was involved in earlier in his career.
I enjoyed the warmth and dry humour that flows through this book as well as the laughably disastrous love life of Robbie Munro. But what makes it most enjoyable is the totally authentic way in which the Scottish criminal justice system is portrayed and especially the interaction between the lawyers, the police and others involved in the legal process.
Present Tense is a gentle and enjoyable contribution to the tartan noir genre. I hadn’t read any of the previous novels and this worked fine as a stand alone.
Present Tense is published by Sandstone Press on 15th September.
My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy – this has not influenced my review.