(43. – 930.) Whipped by William Deverell – Arthur Beauchamp is determinedly tending to his vegetables, goats, sheep and chickens on Garibaldi Island, one of the Gulf Islands, near Vancouver while his wife, Margaret Blake, with equal determination fights for environmental causes as the leader of the Green Party in Parliament in Ottawa. There could not be a greater difference in lifestyles.
Many days Arthur walks to the general store, a 7 km round trip, to pick up his mail and supplies such as netting to keep the robins off his strawberries. He enjoys conversations over a tea and muffin at the Brig, the local tavern. On his return he may savour some of the Roman poets, in Latin of course.
Margaret’s days in Ottawa are a scripted blur. She roars through meetings, addresses the myriad details of running a political party, works out policy positions with her staff, considers a coming election with the Deputy Leader and makes sure to attend sessions of Parliament.
Margot is a firebrand. There are not many in Canadian politics. While our politicians are not always as nice as the rest of us they strive for a gravitas and non-offensive speaking style that can make it hard to distinguish between them.
Margaret has no trouble speaking her mind. Words explode from her emotions. One fractious encounter with the Minister for the Environment, Emil Farquist, begins over a proposed oil pipeline to the West Coast and continues on to the effects of fracking for natural gas. The exchange, started in Parliament, extends to a media scrum in the hallway. Margaret gets off a parting shot by yelling “Frack you” at the Minister.
Back on the island a new movement has arrived. The Personal Transformation Mission Society establishes itself at Starkers Cove. Their handsome, even beautiful, guru, Jason Silverson is enticing islanders to join his devotees known as Transformers.
Back in Ottawa the Green Party is proving that it is like all other parties in digging for political dirt. Margaret meets with a journalist in Montreal, Lou Sabitino, who shows her a video of The Honourable Farquist engaged in a spirited session of BDSM with a dominatrix, Svetlana.
As Margaret ponders how to use the information she indiscreetly describes the video over an open microphone at a conference. Her words are overheard and become a viral sensation when tweeted.
The Minister immediately launches a massive lawsuit asserting defamation.
Margaret convinces Arthur, her life companion (the newest politically correct phrase for a spouse), to yet again interrupt his retirement to return to the courtroom to defend her. There will be no retreat from her dramatic description of the Minister being whipped. Her plea is that the words were the truth. It is a perilous approach to defending defamation. Should the defence not be able to prove truth in court the judgment will be far higher as there has been no apology and the integrity of the plaintiff has been further damaged by the failure to prove the defamatory words were truthful. Margaret is undaunted by the risks but the reporter and the dominatrix have disappeared.
In some books having a spouse as your lawyer would be implausible. Adding to the challenge is that Arthur has practiced criminal defence not civil litigation. Deverell makes Arthur’s representation of Margaret convincing. Arthur does not succumb to emotional excess. He keeps the process in perspective. Most important for credibility he draws on juniors in the firm with extensive experience in civil actions to assist him. Most realistically tensions arise between the lawyer and client arising from the marital relationship.
The story rollicks forward with The Transformers agitating the island folk as they promote love and peace while freely distributing a special drink, Gupa. As for Margaret she is fighting a two sided war - a fall election and the lawsuit.
An issue I had not comtemplated is raised in a newsletter published by a fictional national BDSM group. In today’s world does a practictioner of BDSM, whether whipper or whippee, suffer damage to his/her reputation by public relevation of their private pastime? You can only get a large judgment in defamation by showing actual damage to your reputation. Certainly political pretension is skewered in the book.
Tension rises through the winter. Svetlana has left Canada and a private investigator cannot find Lou. Readers learn Lou has found refuge in a rural Saskatchewan town with a real name. (I will discuss his experiences and the town in my next post.)
Deverell proves that civil litigation, here defamation, can be as interesting as a criminal case for a legal mystey. It may be that authors are grasping the possibilities of fictional civil cases. My favourite fiction of 2017 was Last Days of Night in which Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse were battling in court over alleged patent infringement concerning the light bulb.
And, as always, Deverell is witty throughout the book.