Monday, April 14, 2014


'Take it easy," said the warder, who led Lonsdale Walsh down the stairs from the dock in Court 1 of the Old Bailey, 'you can always appeal.'
"Settled out of Court"

I just realized I managed to write least one post a month on something not from Japan this year. Which is a record for this blog, I think. Other statistics: of all the Japanese books discussed last year, only four were actually bought last year (two of which were only released last year, so I couldn't have bought them sooner anyway): the rest was just backlog...

Lonsdale Walsh had never told a lie. He also couldn't stand hearing people lie. He hated lies. This was not because he was a worshipper of Truth. He simply couldn't stand lies physically and he would get all red in the head just by listening to someone telling an untruth. Modern society wouldn't run smoothly if everyone was like Walsh, and that luckily isn't the case. He was a rarity, and his honesty helped build a trustworthy reputation as a financier. Truth had brought Lonsdale wealth. And it was lies that had gotten Lonsdale Walsh wrongly imprisoned for murder on his rival Adolphus Barnwell. Every witness had commited perjury, just to get Lonsdale convicted. And it worked. But Lonsdale was determined to expose everyone's lies: after breaking out of prison, Lonsdale gathers all witnesses, a judge, a defense attorney and a prosecutor, forcing them to do a second inquiry into the murder. If the lawful roads won't work, then he'll just have to get the case Settled Out Of Court.

Henry Cecil Leon was a County Court Judge and used his experiences, as well as a great sense of humor, to write several books on the British legal system. Settled Out Of Court (1957) is one of those quirky courtroom mysteries, and one I enjoyed immensely. Henry Cecil must have seen a lot of strange going-ons in his courtroom, because Settled Out Of Court is first of all a great parody and satire of the British legal system. The way judges work, the loopholes in the law, the strange ceremony behind each and every trial, Cecil manages to present these (actual) problems of the law in a funny and understandable way. And these critiques never feel too heavy, luckily, always allowing enough room for the main narrative.

Which is also great fun. The secret retrial of Lonsdale's case shows a cast of shady witnesses, who are not sure how to react to these new developments (well, being kidnapped is kinda shocking). The cross-examination of these witnesses are hilarious, and remind somewhat of the witnesses in the Gyakuten Saiban / Ace Attorney videogame series, with their obvious suspiciousness and unwillingness to tell the whole truth. But the retrial is also when the reader really gets sucked into the story, as Settled Out Of Court slowly takes on the form of a traditional courtroom mystery, complete with surprising reveals made during examinations. And while we already know that everyone lied to get Lonsdale in prison, it's still exciting to see how defense is going to show that perjury had been commited, in true courtroom drama style.

The extraordinary circumstances of Lonsdale retrial of course remind of other quirky courtroom dramas. I already mentioned the Gyakuten Saiban / Ace Attorney game series, but that's actually a fairly traditional courtroom mystery. But Settled Out Of Court is probably closer to something like Anthony Berkeley's Trial and Error, featuring a man who wants to prove his own guilt of a crime. Or what about Van Madoy's Revoir series, which features not a court of law, but a private courtroom, allowing both defense and prosucution much more freedom (i.e. they can come up with the most outrageous theories and lie as much as they like, as long as the other party can't proof that).

Settled Out Of Court is a short book, but it makes every page count. It's funny, it's captivating, it's a little bit silly and also offers sharp observations on the law. Recommended!

1 comment :

  1. Recommendation taken. I just bought a copy for a dollar. It also was an omnibus with two more novels in it.