Source: Review copy: Netgalley
Publication: 16 May 2019 from Trapeze
When you read this book, you will think you know every twist in the tale.
Maria is on trial for attempted murder.
She has confessed to the crime and wanted her husband dead.
Lottie is on the jury, trying to decide her fate.She embarks on an illicit affair with a stranger, and her husband can never find out.
You will think you know who is guilty and who is innocent.
You will be wrong.
A gripping, sexy and twisty novel for readers who devoured ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL, APPLE TREE YARD and HE SAID/SHE SAID.
Readers of my blog will know that I am a massive fan of Helen Fields’ police procedurals, set in Edinburgh. So when I heard that she had written a psychological thriller under a nom de plume, I could not wait to get my hands on it.
A bonus for me is that this is a legal thriller, predominantly set in Bristol’s High Court. I do love a good legal thriller, and this one is a cracker. Maria Bloxham is on trial for attempted murder. She was hoping that it would have been murder, but sadly her husband for the last 18 years, Edward Bloxham, survived, albeit he is now in a vegetative state.
Maria confessed to bludgeoning her husband after calling the police following her husband’s collapse at their home. It should be an open and shut case for the jury, though Maria is pleading not guilty.
Degrees of Guilt follows the jury process, though not so literally as to spoil the story, to show the reader the trial process and jury deliberations in a trial where it soon becomes clear, we do not know anything like the whole story.
This is a novel that pares back the layers of seemingly successful and conventional marriages to expose the egos, fragility and darkness that lies below.
There are those that relish being part of the action on a big jury trial, and others who wish themselves thousands of miles away, and Chandler neatly brings us a microcosm of juries across the country who bring their own experiences and prejudices to the British jury system.
Lottie Hiraj is a wife and mother. Called to serve on the jury, she is feeling just a little bit liberated as she gets to leave her humdrum life as a stay at home mother. Lottie is married to Zain, a handsome, middle class Pakistani with ambition. She loves him, but is finding that since the birth of their son, Daniyal, her world has become small and lacking in stimulation. She needs her little grey cells stimulated and once selected, relishes the vitality of being in a room with other adults discussing a challenging scenario.
The evidence itself is harrowing, but of course only tells one part of the story; here interpretation is everything. From the barristers to the psychologist, to the police inspector and to Maria herself, this is a story that everyone has a view about, but how the jury interprets it will be crucial.
Lottie is delighted to find that in the summer heat of Bristol, one of the jurors, a local craftsman, seems very attracted to her and after some light flirtations, it is clear that she is as attracted to him as he is to her. This feeling of being desired and of having her opinions valued feels new and exciting to Lottie and soon she is embroiled in a previously unthinkable situation.
While the courtroom battle proceeds and Maria’s case of self-defence seems hopeless, Lottie is finding that there is more than one unreliable narrator in this domestic noir drama.
Maria is fighting for her freedom, but can she convince the jury of the validity of her word. What is justice in the context of a story where the only evidence is the word of one woman?
Juror Lottie now finds herself in a supremely difficult position, but this will give her the edge that she needs to come to the right conclusion?
Chandler has written a riveting, pacey and very black story for our times which illustrates only too well the need for a law on coercive control. Her narrative is compelling and the stories of Lottie and Maria keep us on the hook while we wriggle and turn at every twist, trying to comprehend who is telling the truth and where justice really lies.
Verdict: A brilliant, exciting and addictive novel from a terrific storyteller
HS Chandler is the pen name of Helen Fields. As HS Chandler she writes psychological thrillers and legal thrillers. With a background as a criminal and family law barrister, Helen now runs a media company and writes the Callanach crime series.